Working Poor in America
Working to be Poor in America A single mother of three works two jobs at minimum wage can survive only if she takes advantage of food stamps and lives with a roommate to help pays the bills. This is the case with most of the “working poor” in America. In 2006, a family of four with one minimum-wage earner had a total income (including food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit) of $18,950, some $1,550 below the poverty line. America is one of the richest countries in the world and yet according to the US Census Bureau, in 2010 21 million of its population lived in working-poor families.
This translates into nearly 9. 6 percent of all American families living below 100 percent of poverty have at least one family member working. How can this be? Some people believe that the workers are to blame; they believe that it is the workers’ lack of ambition and drive to better themselves that causes them to be in such dire conditions. While this might be true in very few cases, I don’t believe that it paints the entire picture as to why there could be a “working poor” class in America.
Despite what society may think, the “working poor” exists because they are subjected to minimum wage, insufficient hours, layoffs, lack of skills, expensive health care and childcare, and inadequate housing. Society throws so many curve balls at low-wage workers that it has become very nearly impossible for them to transcend their situations. One common misconception is that the answer to poverty is to get a job. We assume that if someone is hungry, it is because they are unemployed and are living on the streets. The reality is that over 49 million Americans are affected by hunger.
Does this mean that they all are jobless and homeless? As the article “25 million depend on emergency food assistance” reports, about one-third of the adults between the ages of 18 and 65 needing emergency food-aid are employed. Thirty-six percent of all families seeking assistance reported that at least one family member was working. As Michelle Conlin and Aaron Bernstein explain, today more than 28 million people, about a quarter of the workforce between the ages of 18 and 64, earn less than $9. 04 an hour, which translates into a full-time salary of $18,800 a year—the income that marks the federal poverty line for a family of four. “The Working Poor Are Not Getting By in America”) The Census Bureau lists that overall 63% of U. S. families below the federal poverty line have one or more workers. How is it that such a large percentage of the U. S. population can be considered as poor or hungry? Is it that all these people lack ambition or is it society that places the burden of poverty on these workers? The primary and main reason for the rut the “working poor” find themselves in is the minimum wage. While profits and productivity soar in today’s economy, the minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with inflation.
Opponents of a raise in the minimum wage often make dire predictions about supposed adverse impacts on employment rates and the economy. But study after study shows that there is simply no evidence that raising the minimum wage has led to higher unemployment, and there is substantial evidence that a responsible minimum wage increase does not affect employment rates at all. According to the New York Times editorial Board, if the minimum wage had kept pace with the rise in executive salaries since 1990, America’s poorest paid workers would be making more than $23 an hour.
In 1956, the federal minimum wage was a dollar an hour; that same dollar when adjusted for inflation would be $10. 55 an hour in today’s dollars, instead today the actual federal wage is $7. 25 and for tipped workers a dismal $2. 13. This amounts to about $1. 50 an hour less, in today’s money, than it did in 1968. In “Raising the minimum wage will reduce poverty” it states that even with a $7. 25-an-hour minimum wage, a family of five with a full-time, minimum-wage earner that receives food stamps and the refundable tax credits would fall $1,139 below the poverty line in 2009.
In the past 30 years, Congress has passed legislation to increase the minimum wage exactly 3 times. With politicians and employers fighting furiously to keep this minimum wage down, low-wage workers are forced to work two, sometimes even three jobs in addition to depending on government handouts in order to barely get by. While their income is kept at a minimum, their expenses continue to soar: health care, child care, gas prices, housing, the list goes on. The cost of living has been constantly rising for years while the minimum wage lags behind. The number of people who lack health insurance is about 49. million. In 2010, the percentage of people who had health insurance through their employers fell to 55. 3% while 31% of Americans relied on the government for health insurance. (Les Christie) However, while most children in families with a full-time minimum-wage worker are eligible for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, their parents are not. In fact, according to the Census data, in 25 states a parent in a three-person family with a full-time, minimum-wage job earns too much to qualify for Medicaid.
As a result, about 41 percent of all parents with incomes below the poverty line were uninsured in 2005. In addition to this, many working poor families face significant childcare costs. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, in the median state in the 2004-2005 academic year, full-time infant care in a licensed child care center cost an average of $7,100 per year, while full-time care for preschoolers in a licensed child care center cost an average of $5,800.
Without a child care subsidy, a family earning at or near the minimum wage is unlikely to be able to afford such a tuition bill for one child, let alone two or more children. Housing cost burdens for poor families are often severe. Expenditures on public housing have fallen since the 1980s, and expansion of public rental subsidies came to a halt in the mid-1990s. Actual rents have to be less than 30% of one’s income to be considered ‘affordable’. Ehrenreich 201) Housing analyst Peter Dreier reports that 59% of poor renters, amounting to a total of 4. 4 million households, spend more than 50% of their income on shelter. (38) Nationwide, the average cost of a modest two-bedroom apartment in 2006 was $821 per month, or $9,852 per year, according to the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At this cost, rent and utilities consume nearly half (48 percent) of the income of a family of four at the poverty line. This calculation assumes that the family receives food stamps, the EITC and child tax credit. ) Rising rents are forcing the low-wage workers into motels with fluctuating prices for the winter season and tourist seasons. By relying on the minimum wage, basic necessities such as health care and home-ownership have now become a luxury to the “working poor” – a distant dream that can never be realized. We would assume that there is adequate support for the “working poor” through government handouts, but even this system is flawed.
Throughout the nation soup kitchens and food pantries are stretched beyond capacity, struggling and failing to meet new need, much of it from working people whose wages simply haven’t kept up. Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickled and Dimed reveals through her own experience as a low-wage employee just how difficult it is to receive help from the government and charity organizations and how limited these options are. You would need to dedicate a significant amount of your time and energy to locate these options and even when you do manage to get in touch with the “right person” the help received can be useless.
As a low-wage worker, where every hour of your time is money spent, devoting this amount of time to looking for government aid is a luxury as well. Therefore, they are prevented from receiving the little assistance available to them. Most of the time, they do not even qualify for welfare because of the low-wage paying job that they have, even though they desperately need the assistance. Therefore, who or what do we blame for the devastating conditions of the “working poor” in our society?
If there was a clear cut answer to this question, then maybe this question would never need to be asked. We would just point a finger and work on getting the problem fixed. Society strips the “working poor” of their dignity, self-worth, self-respect and pride and leaves them naked to suffer these physically demanding, dead-end jobs where they are paid next to nothing and in the end, still condemned because they are thought of as lazy parasites that put a strain on society through their addictions and their insistence on reproducing in unfavorable circumstances.
Society is quick to judge these individuals and disapprove of their actions when in reality it is society’s fault that these people must depend on such things as welfare in order to minimally survive. According to Furman and Parrot in “Raising the minimum wage will reduce poverty”, raising the minimum wage would be an important first step and a useful complement to public policies like the EITC, food stamps, and child care subsidies, which provide additional benefits and supports for low-income working families.
They believe that a broader agenda is needed, however, to raise the prospects of low-wage workers and their families more significantly. Such an agenda would need to include additional income supports, help in obtaining the health care, child care, and housing that these families need but often cannot afford, and new opportunities to attend college or upgrade their skills so they can secure higher paying, more stable jobs. Works Cited “25 million depend on emergency food assistance. ” Policy & Practice June 2006: 7.
Academic OneFile. Web. 22 June 2012. Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor. May 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. Christie, Les. “Number of people without health insurance climbs. ” CNN Money. Cable News Network 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. Conlin, Michelle, and Aaron Bernstein. “The Working Poor Are Not Getting By in America. ” Poverty. Ed. Viqi Wagner. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Working … And Poor. ” Business Week (31 May 2004). Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 0 June 2012. Dreier, Peter. Why America’s Workers Can’t Pay the Rent. Dissent 47 (3). Summer 2000. Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Co, 2001. Print. Furman, Jason, and Sharon Parrot. “Raising the Minimum Wage Will Reduce Poverty. ” Poverty. Ed. Viqi Wagner. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “A $7. 25 Minimum Wage Would Be a Useful Step in Helping Working Families Escape Poverty. ” www. cbpp. org. 2007. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context.
Web. 22 June 2012. Jeff Chapman. “Employment and the Minimum Wage: Evidence from Recent State Labor Trends,” Economic Policy Institute, 2004. And in one of the most compelling studies, David Card and Alan B. Krueger find that the 1992 New Jersey state minimum wage increase had no negative effect on employment in New Jersey’s fast-food industry. David Card and Alan Krueger, “Minimum Wages and Employment: A case study of the fast-food industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” American Economic Review, vol. 4 (4), 772-793, 2004. Pimpare, Stephen. “Welfare Reform Has Increased Poverty. ” Poverty and Homelessness. Ed. Noel Merino. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Current Controversies. Rpt. from “Why Welfare Reform Has Failed. ” ZNet. 2004. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 22 June 2012. RaisetheMinimumWage. com. National Employment Law Project. June 2012. Web. 21 June 21 2012. Rhoda Cohen, J. , Mabli, F. , Potter, Z. , Zhao. Hunger In America 2010. Feeding America. February 2010.