Thursday, September 18, 2008

With Whom do You Identify?

When it comes to poverty, one of the easiest 'arm chair quarterback' exercises, is to judgemental ism about the poor. Most often this judgementalism is the result of our bias, or it is the result of having bought into the fear mongering that has been so prevalent in the last few years. Not only the fear of threat from without, but a shrinking pie that we consider the American economy to be. It has amazed me, and I consider the genius of the dominant culture, that we have somehow made it 'logical' for people who make $35,000 a year, to defend the interest of people who make $350,000,000.

The fact is, most of us are more likely to fall below the poverty level, than make a million!

So who are these people for whom we have so much antipathy, if not indifference?

The Urban Institute has done a study on Low Income Working Families. Perhaps you can find some points of identification with this group:

The vast majority of low-income parents today are working but still struggling to make ends meet: struggling to find and keep a toehold in a changing labor market, to keep up with their bills, to pay the spiraling costs of essentials like health care and housing, and to raise children with a chance of future success. These families have much in common with other American families as they seek to balance work and family life, yet parents and children in low-income families are more financially vulnerable than those in higher-income families.

One-quarter of America's children live in low-income families with a working parent. In 2001, almost 19 million children lived with parents who worked regularly in families that remained low-income (income below twice the official poverty threshold, or about $38,000 for a family of four). Of all low-income families with children, 6 in 10 have at least one parent who worked full-time all year, and another 1 in 10 have a parent who worked at least half-time all year.

Low hourly wages explain why these working families have low incomes. The vast majority of a low-income family's income comes from earnings (89 percent for a low-income family with at least one full-time, full-year worker). Yet, the median hourly wage for the primary worker in these families is about $9. If these workers see their real wages grow 4 percent per year, it will take 11 years to reach the $14 average hourly wage for middle-income families (income between two and three times the poverty threshold).

Low-income working families receive fewer job benefits than middle-income families. Low-income families with at least one full-time worker are much less likely than middle-income families to receive health insurance through an employer (49 versus 77 percent). Almost one in ten of these "high-work" low-income families report postponing needed medical care during a 12-month period for lack of health insurance or money. And, low-income working families are less likely to have paid vacation or sick leave than higher-income families, making it more difficult to juggle work, family health, and well-being.

Low-income working families face greater food and housing hardships. Over one-quarter of low-income families with a full-time worker experience hardships related to food and housing. Forty percent of moderate-work, low-income families (those without a full-time worker but still working a substantial number of hours) report food and housing hardship.

Child care can be a large expense for low-income working families in which the mother works. Sixty-nine percent of children under age 5 with low-income working mothers are cared for regularly by someone other than a parent. Thirty-nine percent of these children are in care for at least 35 hours a week. High-work, low-income families that pay for child care spend $3,135 per year on average, or 12 percent of income.

More to come, but I think its important to know that hard work is not the exclusive province of the well-to-do.


Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. I think that, as a country, we have come to really focus on the differences between us.

Instead of looking at another person and trying to identify what makes us similar - what do we have in common that can be a starting point for working together - we look for what makes us different. It is easier to dismiss the problems and challenges that someone else faces if we allow ourselves to decide that they're different from us - "other" than us. If someone is living in poverty, they must be different from me. They must not work as hard or want the same things for their families that I want.

Once we've done that, we feel better about absolving ourselves of any responsibility to help.

Anonymous said...