Up to a third of U.S. jobs are low-wage, researcher says

Fighting poverty is ‘moral’ issue>

WASHINGTON (PAI) — “One-fourth to one-third” of all U.S. jobs “are low-wage jobs” whose workers need not just a raise, but a support system to help lift them out of poverty, a top researcher says.

Speaking at the latest Economic Policy Institute forum on restructuring the economy, researcher Nancy Cauthen added that “low wage workers don’t have the benefits the rest of the work force has” that would help raise them out of poverty — and keep them out — in future years.

Working hard yet poverty grows

The numbers actually understate the poverty case, Cauthen told the crowd. Some working-poor families get food stamps, child care aid, health insurance and a tax reduction from the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, Cauthen said. Such aid does not lift them out of poverty unless they get all four forms of aid and only 5 percent do.

“We have to make the case that these are not welfare programs, but about building a support system to support low-wage workers,” Cauthen said.

Hurdles instead of bridges

But getting low-income, full-time workers and their families out of poverty still runs up against a wide range of problems, speakers at the seminar said. One is that the families are still forced to go to the equivalent of welfare offices to apply “and many people don’t assume they’re eligible until they’re actually on relief,” Cauthen noted.

Another problem is that as income rises, some of the aid programs are yanked, pushing the families’ income back down.

And a third problem is that the support services are not viewed, as they should be, as providing the low-income families, including the working poor, with “a bridge to the middle class,” speakers added.

A moral issue

Author Barbara Ehrenreich, who captured the problems of the working poor in her book “Nickeled and Dimed in America,” said that lifting people out of poverty should become a moral crusade.

“That’s how the living wage movement has become effective. They said: ‘If you can’t make a living by working, something is wrong here,’” she added.

Not only would making a living wage be a moral crusade that would help people economically, “It would counteract the radical right’s insistence that ‘moral issues’ are gay rights, stem cell research and abortion,” she noted.

Living wages for all

Making living wages to raise people out of poverty a moral crusade would also make it potentially universal, Ehrenreich added. That would expand the universe of supporters beyond the present coalition of unions, low-income advocates and progressives, she pointed out. “And it is very important to make the link between this” — the low income of the working poor — “and the assault on the middle class,” she noted.

“I have middle-class people writing to me after layoffs, downsizing, outsourcing and after a year of being pitched into low-wage jobs,” she added. “This is something that faces everyone. People will lose everything. Health insurance is problem for the middle class, whether you’re employed or unemployed.”