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Oct 24th

Low wage jobs deprive Black families

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Low wage jobs deprive Black families

More than nine million American families are considered low-wage families, or working poor. These families, more often than not, look like a typical American family: the majority of them have two parents living at home; they are U.S. citizens with at least a high school diploma. More than nine million American families are considered low-wage families, or working poor. These families, more often than not, look like a typical American family: the majority of them have two parents living at home; they are U.S. citizens with at least a high school diploma.

They struggle to raise a healthy family and to keep their children safe. Yet their income often falls far short of the family's needs. If a child gets sick, the resulting medical bill could put a serious financial burden on the family. The cost of quality childcare has to be measured against the need to pay utility bills.

Too many American families -- a large percentage of them African-American -- are forced to make these tough decisions day in and day out. They shouldn't have to. Policy changes and increased supports can ensure that all of America's workers have the resources they need to provide for their families.

According to a study released by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, more than half of black workers in this country hold down jobs that don't pay a living wage or provide healthcare or retirement benefits. These jobs are usually in the retail, healthcare or social assistance industries and often don't offer any room for advancement - employees are stuck in the low-paying jobs for which they were initially hired. Despite the long hours many of these workers put in, countless numbers of them are unable to keep themselves - and their families - afloat financially.

A single parent with three children earning minimum wage -- currently $5.85 an hour -- will bring home $12,168 a year. This number falls far short of the federal poverty level for a family of four: $20,650. Because the family won't have enough money to meet basic needs, Medicaid, subsidized housing and free school lunch programs help fill the void, increasing the burden on taxpayers. Increasing the minimum wage to a living wage would force employers to shoulder more of the responsibility for their employee's basic needs, lowering costs for the states and, ultimately, the taxpayer.

Besides establishing a living wage law, there are other things that the government can do to ease the burden on the working poor. Creating job programs that provide tax credits to employers who train and promote low-wage workers into higher paying jobs is a start. Allowing employees to unionize and fight for their fair share of the pie is another.

There are no easy solutions to this issue. But solutions have to be created. If America continues to ignore the plight of the working poor, the gap between the poor and the rich will continue to widen. And the social ills that result from poverty -- crime, homelessness, etc. -- will only increase. And society at large will have to foot the bill.

Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

 

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