working poor in America
30 million Americans earn less than $8.70/hr, the official US poverty level for a family of four. Their low-wage, no-benefits jobs translate into billions of dollars in profits, executive pay, high stock prices and low store prices. The reigning American mythology : holding a low-wage job is a temporary situation that will be solved by mobility and education. The evidence, however, is that most low-wage workers will never move up the ladder into the middle class. Economics professors Peter Gottschalk of Boston College and Sheldon Danziger of the U. of Mich. found that about half of those whose family income ranked in the bottom 20% in 1968 were still in the same group in 1991. Of those who had moved up, nearly 3/4 remained below the median income. Further, most of these workers lack basic job benefits. In 1995 less than half of workers making under $20K/yr were offered health insurance by their employer. Only one in five has pension coverage. Of low-wage parents with children under six, 1/3 do not get paid vacations or paid holidays. Most low-wage jobs fail to provide sick pay or disability pay. These jobs leave little flexibility to care for a sick child or aging parent or deal with an emergancy at school, let alone the normal appoinmtments and needs of everyday life. Quality childcare is unaffordable for most. Low-wage workplaces are often physically dangerous and emotionally degrading. Over the past quarter-century, political, economic, and corporate decisions have undercut the bargaining power of workers, especially those at the lower end of the work force. Those decisions included the push to increase global trade and open global markets, gov't deregulation of industries that had been highly unionized, tight monetary policies, and a corporate idealogical shift away from the postwar social contract with employees and toward the principle of maximizing shareholder value. The mosyt vulnerable workers are becoming deprived of many of the institutions, laws and political allies that counterbalance these forces. Liberal allies who historically had championed their interests sat mostly silent. Unions were in decline. Minimum-wage, fair employment and labor laws were weakened. We need to re-establish the mutual obligations and responsibilities of employers, workers and government: that if you work hard you will be treated fairly and have the resources to provide for yourself and your family.