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...
Cited: Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Co, 2001. Print.
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