Poverty: The Reality Facing Many Working Families

Plenty of huffing and puffing last week Inside the Beltway about taxes. And about who is wealthy — or not — in this country. Are you wealthy if you are making $250,000 a year — or is the threshold $1 million?

Too bad the blowhards in Congress and in the administration didn’t spend a equal amount of time during the past two years noodling about what to do about creating well-paying jobs — and about the growing number of people in this country who are now part of the working poor.

We’re in the midst of a jobless economic recovery — with some 15 million Americans looking for a job. And I expect that the number of  unemployed is much higher — with people dropping out of the job market altogether.

And how about many who do have jobs? Well, they ain’t doing so well either. Go figure.

The findings in a study being released today by the Working Poor Families Project highlight the extent of the problem. Here’s from a post on The Huffington Post, “Employed But Struggling: Report Finds 1 in 3 Working Families Near Poverty“:

In the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Depression, much attention has been focused on the 15 million people who are officially out of work, yet even among those who have jobs, livelihoods and living standards have been substantially downgraded. Growing numbers of employed people live in near poverty, struggling to make ends meet.

Almost a third of America’s working families are now considered low-income, earning less than twice the official poverty threshold, according to a report released Tuesday by the Working Poor Families Project. The recession, which has incited layoffs and wage cuts, reversed a period of improvement: Between 2007 and 2009, as the recession set in, the percentage of U.S. working families classified as low-income grew from 28 percent to more than 30 percent.

Workers who once focused on career advancement now live paycheck to paycheck. The American middle class, in effect, is eroding.

“They’re no longer working actively, with a chance to advance and gain more experience and skills,” said Brandon Roberts, manager of the Working Poor Families Project and a co-author of the report. “They’re just putting pieces together to stay afloat, to meet basic needs.”

As a nation we can argue all we want about taxing the wealthy. But the bigger issue is this: We are in deep doo-doo in this country if we continue down the path of having a society consisting of wealthy at one end and poor — including working poor — at the other.

Now we are talking about jobs — and about education.

And since over a period of several decades we have gleefully outsourced our manufacturing industries — and middle-class jobs — to other countries, that’s the direction we are heading in: rich and poor.

E.J. Dionne Jr. touches on this issue in a recent WaPo column, “Even progressives need CEOs.” Here’s an excerpt:

Who in the commercial world might lead a push for reform? Progressives, including my Post colleague Harold Meyerson, have taken note of a Bloomberg Businessweek article by Andy Grove, who was Intel’s longtime leader. Grove asked exactly the right question: “What kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work – and masses of unemployed?”

Grove criticized “a general undervaluing of manufacturing – the idea that as long as ‘knowledge work’ stays in the U.S., it doesn’t matter what happens to factory jobs.” But over time, he argued, if we offshore the manufacturing that results from home-grown innovation, we will eventually lose our advantages in innovation itself.

I try to look at the glass as being half full — especially when it is filled with Jameson.

But I worry about the future of our country when as many as a third of working families are in or near poverty.

Just sayin’.



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