Who Are The Working Poor?
January 23, 2013 11:30 am
As job numbers creep back from the recessionary brink, many of the newly employed find themselves working as cashiers, cooks and home health-aids, still barely making ends meet. The Working Poor Families Project (WPFP) makes it their business to scour census numbers in order to present an accurate picture of poverty in America, as opposed to the “welfare-queen” stereotype vilified by so many on the right.
A new report from the WPFP says that in fact, the majority of the growing population of poor and low-income families are actually working. From Low-Income Working Families: The Growing Economic Gap:
There is a common misconception—magnified during the recent presidential election—that low income families are “takers” who do not work, instead relying on government assistance to meet their needs. But in 2011, more than 7 in 10 low-income families and half of all poor families were working.
The number of struggling working families is growing at an alarming rate. Census numbers show that the number of low-income working families increased from 10.2 to 10.4 million between 2010 and 2011 (in the midst of a so called recovery), and nearly one-third (32 percent) of the nation’s families can count themselves among the working poor. (The low-income classification is given to those families whose household income is under 200 percent of the poverty level, the “poor” classification to those whose income falls below the poverty level, $22,811 for a family of four with two children).
While unemployment and discouraged workers are still a massive nationwide problem, for these families, finding work is not the issue — rather the quality of work, educational attainment and often, race and immigrant status make the crucial distinction:
In 2011, about one-fourth of adults in low-income working families were employed in just eight occupations, as cashiers, cooks, health aids, janitors, maids, retail salespersons, waiters and waitresses, or drivers. Some of these occupations— especially those involving health care—are among the fastest-growing occupations in the country.
The report praises Congress for it’s last minute action to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit, child tax credit, and emergency unemployment benefits, but it criticizes recent cuts in state funding for the secondary funding so crucial for a semblance of middle-class living. Additionally, the report urges action on improving the quality of the jobs that one-third of the nation’s families barely get by on:
For job quality this means taking proactive steps to ensure that work is fair and properly rewarded. Specific policy actions include raising and indexing the minimum wage; providing all workers access to paid sick days and family leave; enforcing work rules and wage standards; and ensuring that if public job creation expenditures persist, they benefit workers and their communities.
For low-wage workers and organizers, the struggle for these basic workplace rights is nothing new. The better organized the growing class of low-wage workers are, the greater their power to take an active role in the fight for better wages and conditions.
Image from here.