The pinkos over at some obscure leftist rag called Business Week just published a very interesting article about the working poor. Authors Michelle Conlin and Aaron Bernstein juggle anecdotes and facts to paint a depressing picture. Here are a few of the facts:
Today more than 28 million people, about a quarter of the workforce between the ages of 18 and 64, earn less than $9.04 an hour, which translates into a full-time salary of $18,800 a year -- the income that marks the federal poverty line for a family of four . . . .
[. . .]
Overall, 63% of U.S. families below the federal poverty line have one or more workers, according to the Census Bureau. They're not just minorities, either; nearly 60% are white. About a fifth of the working poor are foreign-born, mostly from Mexico. And the majority possess high school diplomas and even some college -- which 30 years ago would virtually have assured them a shot at the middle class.
[. . .]
The federal minimum wage, too, long served as a bulwark against low pay by putting a floor under the bottom as the rest of the workforce gained ground. At $5.15 an hour, it remains 30% less than it was in 1968, after inflation adjustments. It hasn't moved in nearly seven years, victim of a divided political Establishment in which programs for a relatively powerless group often get jammed up in bipartisan gridlock.
And one anecdote:
Pittsburgh native Edward Plesniak, 36, lost his $10.68-an-hour union job as a janitor when the contractor fired all the union workers to make way for cheaper, nonunion labor. So far, Plesniak has been able to dredge up work only as a part-time floor waxer. The pay: $6.00 an hour, with no benefits. "I feel like I'm in a nightmare," says the married father of three. "And I can't wake up."
All followed by a grim conclusion:
The U.S. has long tolerated wider disparities in income than other industrialized countries, mostly out of a belief that anyone with enough moxie and hustle could lift themselves up in America's vibrant economy. Sadly, it seems that path is becoming an ever steeper climb. Strong recovery and vigorous growth will again get wages growing. But as a new phase of prosperity begins, it may be time for some added advantages for those struggling in a brutal global economy. Otherwise, the outcome could be more polarization and inequality. The farther down that road the country goes, the harder it will be to change course.
I never had to work a low-wage job as an adult. (I worked in a retail store during my last two years of high school and during the Christmas and summer vacations during my first three years in college.) But I was cheap graduate student labor for several years and then spent nearly a decade as a part-time adjunct at several schools. I was never desperate like the people mentioned in the article, but I was more than a little anxious from time to time.
If I learned anything about dead-end jobs from my experiences in academia, it's this: most of the people who don't have such jobs don't really care very much about the people who do have them regardless of what they say to the contrary. Consequently, I don't expect much political will to do anything about the working poor to arise anytime soon.