Living one paycheck away from poverty is a familiar experience for many working-class Americans. However, a new study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development says that close to 43 percent of all of the people living in the U.S., or 127 million people, are living this way.
The study points to the growth of “liquid asset poverty households,” ones that “lack the savings or other assets to cover basic expenses for just three months if a layoff or other emergency leads to loss of income.”
For these families a medical emergency or the loss of a job is a catastrophe.
That these issues confront a growing share of the population is not new. Indeed, a study by the Census Department in December indicated that close to 100 million people, or a third of the U.S. population, live at or near the poverty line. The data in that report “shows that 51 million Americans live on incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line while 49.1 million are below the poverty line which translates into $24,343 for a family of four.”
However the news that the on-the-brink situation extends to close to half the country is dramatic – and important.
Tens of millions of families are working regularly but have little savings and are on the brink of disaster.
With the economy only slightly improving, high unemployment, continuing drops in home property value and rising foreclosures will mean most will live this way.
All the signs point to increased class and democratic struggle. Even the conservative Wall Street Journal sees it: “Again, we seem to see the country bifurcating. There are those households that are doing OK and are continuing to spend through these tough times. Yet, there are a large number of people that have to watch out where every penny of their income is going. This means that the economic recovery will not only remain weak, but it will be fragile and susceptible to unexpected shocks.”
The broad working-class public sees it as well. A full 66 percent mark the conflict between the rich 1 percent and the rest of the country as “very strong” according to a new Pew poll. Folks are fed up and with good reason. As Senator Bernie Sanders recently said “How can anyone defend the richest 400 people in this country having more wealth than the bottom half of America, 150 million people?”
The struggle is about jobs and job security and who is paying their fair share.
As the election season heats up these issues will not go away, nor will the ongoing attack on labor. The GOP seems to be making sure of that with Republican state governments continuing to push “right to work” laws in Indiana, Michigan and other states.
While focusing on the economy and the issue of fairness, President Obama’s State of the Union speech did not mention his American Jobs Act, a desperately needed piece of legislation if job stability and economic confidence are to be restored.
A campaign to reintroduce this and other pieces of jobs legislation would be an important part of making sure the struggle for jobs remains the centerpiece of the election struggle. What could be fairer than the right to have a shot at economic stability and a meaningful future of work?