Spotlight Exclusives

New Report Finds America۪s Working Families Continue to Fall Behind

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A major new study released by theWorking Poor Families Project, finds a continuing rise in the number oflow-income working American families and a staggering increase in incomeinequality. “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short: New Findings on the ChallengesConfronting America۪s Working Families”also providesin-depth national and state data on low-income working families and thechallenges they face, including information about education levels, racialmakeup, the number of children, housing costs and health insurance coverage.

To get a closer look at thefindings, Spotlight interviewed the report۪s author and manager of the WorkingPoor Families Project, Brandon Roberts.

To read the full report and findstate-by-state data, click here.

Q: What are the major findings of your report?

A: Our new national report shows that one out of four working familiesin the low-income.  That is 9.6 millionworking families comprised of 42 million adults and children. This is a largenumber and comprises far more American working families than typicallyacknowledged by government and the public.

The alarming news from our study is that even before this year۪s economiccrises, the conditions for working families were getting worse, not better. Duringa four year period of robust economic growth, the number and percent oflow-income working families increased. Some important findings include:

–         Thenumber of low-income working families increased by over 350,000 from 2002 to2006.

–         Thenumber of children living in low-income working families increased by almost 1million. This means that one-third of America۪s children live inlow-income working families putting their economic future at-risk.

–         Incomeinequality among working families increased by almost 10 percent.

–         Thenumber of jobs in poverty wage occupations increased by 4.7 million.

Q: Whatis a real-life example of the challenges low-income working families arefacing?

A: Picture a working family in Prince Georges County, Maryland with two parentsand two children. If both parents work full-time at minimum wage their totalincome would be approximately $27,000 per year. The Federal EITC and MD۪s EITCwould push their earnings up to around $30,000. After payroll taxes, the familywould have somewhat over $2,300 a month to live on.

A three-bedroom apartment averages $1,400 a month in PrinceGeorgesCounty leaving $900 amonth for food, clothing, utilities, and transportation, which are the basicnecessities of life. That does not even begin to consider health care andpossible childcare. And the idea of retirement accounts and college funds arebeyond consideration. While this family is working hard, the American Dream isclearly out of their reach.
Q: Howdoes your data fit into the current economic situation?

A: Understandably all eyes today are focused on the financial and economiccrises affecting America۪sworking families. But the stark reality is that too many of America۪sworking families have been in economic crises long before this year. Thiscondition did not come about over night. For far too long, our federal andstate policies have failed to adequately support working families in theirquest to achieve economic mobility and security. Simply put, government nolonger works for all of America۪sworking families.

While our findings are based on 2006 data, it paints a picture of the problemsso many families are encountering while trying to make ends meet. If wegathered the same data today, they problem would clearly be worse.

Q: Whydid you decide to release this report right now?

A: Our report is an objective and data-driven document that is not written toadvance anyone’s political agenda or suggest that this is a problemattributable to any particular economic trends. It is a serious research effortthat draws attention to a major national issue that 9.6 million workingfamilies are low-income in the U.S.,struggling to make ends meet and advance to the middle class. 

We believe that this is a critical issue that deserves attention by federal andstate policy-makers and that now is an excellent time to raise this, asimportant policy issues are being considered and debated throughout the nation.With elections preparing to reshape administrations in Washington and many state capitals, we callon all leaders to make a commitment to renew the promise of the American Dreamfor all working families. The time to act is now.

Q: Are many low-income families struggling simply because they۪re just notworking hard enough? 

A: In fact,contrary to popular myth, just the opposite is true. The average low-incomeworking family in our study works 2,552 hours per year, roughly one andone-quarter full-time position annually. We believe that is a significant workeffort. In fact, 96 percent of all our families work at least half time and 72percent work full-time or more. These are hard working families trying to dothe right thing and support their children. One further note, 52 percent of thefamilies are headed by married couples and in 84 percent of these families, thehours worked annually exceed one full-time position.  Q: What are your recommendations and what should people take away from thisreport?A: Thereare working families struggling in every state across the country. Our studyraises concerns that our public systems and policies are no longer sufficientto help working families get ahead and stay ahead.

The report finds that more has to be done at both the federal and state levelif we are serious about addressing the needs of low-income working families inthe U.S.We recommend strengthening education and skills development policies for adultworkers as well as income and work support policies. This means focusing onpolicies such a financial aid for postsecondary education, funding for adultbasic education and literacy, health care and paid family leave, minimum wage,state tax laws and many other critical policies affecting low-income workingfamilies.

We recognize that thereis no one single policy that will address this issue. We must take action on anumber of fronts. As such, a primary recommendation for immediate action callsfor the federal government in partnership with the states to initiate anational commission to examine how our public systems and policies can bettersupport working families. In doing so, we must get policy-makers to acknowledgethat this is an important issue and to take actions so that all families canpursue and hopefully realize the American Dream of economic mobility and security.

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