Right now, more than 46 million people are living in poverty in America, including more than 1 in 5 children; another 60 million people are just a single hardship away from falling into poverty. This is the sad news from a new collaboration of poverty experts called TalkPoverty.org.
Here are the numbers:
- U.S. poverty (less than $18,284 for a family of three; less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent of U.S.
- Poorest age group: children, more than 34 percent of all people in poverty are children.
- Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent of all children under 18.
- Poverty rate among children in single parent families: 42 percent.
- Number of married parents in poverty (raising minor children): 5.8 million.
- Number of never married parents living in poverty: 4.6 million.
- Educational attainment of adults in poverty: approximately 70 percent have a high school degree or above.
- Costs of child poverty: $550 billion per year, or 3.8 percent of GDP.
- Households without sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income, 2011: 25.4 percent.
- Jobs in the US paying less than $35,100 a year: 50 percent.
- Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four (less than $23,000 annually): 25 percent.
- Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
- Economic gains since 2009: 95 percent to top 1%; 60% to top .1% (people with annual incomes of more than $1.9 million.)
- Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers—not raise since 1991)
- Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation for past 40 years: $10.86.
- Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains since 1968: $18.67
- Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06
In April the United States Senate had an opportunity to do something positive for the millions of children living in poverty and their hard working low-income parents, by supporting Senator Tom Harkins’ (D-Iowa) bill to Raise the Minimum Wage. But they failed when they could not reach the 60 votes needed to even debate the measure. Both Senator Ayotte of NH and Senator Collins of Maine were among the 42 Senators casting votes to quash the debate.
And over in the House of Representatives, leadership has shown little interest in giving a vote to the bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)
Economists and other researchers investigating the minimum wage agree that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty. That’s the conclusion of a major paper by UMass Amherst economist Arin Dube titled “Minimum Wages and the Distribution of Family Incomes.”
A February 2013 poll conducted by PEW Research found the following: Public Support for Raising the Federal Minimum Wage
- 71 percent of Americans support a federal minimum wage increase to $9.00 per hour including
- 87 percent of Democrats
- 68 percent of Independents
- 50 percent of Republicans
A March 2014 report by the Center for American Progress found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and tying it to inflation, could reduce federal spending on food stamp benefits by $46 billion over 10 years. Also, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that by putting more income in low-wage workers’ pockets, the higher minimum wage would cut back their reliance on public assistance, to the tune of $4.6 billion annually. That amounts to roughly 6 percent of current food stamp spending, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.
So, if economists and researchers conclude that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty and the dependence on government assistance programs, and 71 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage, why has it met such resistance from some of our elected leaders?
During a February 2014 town hall meeting in Cheshire County, Senator Ayotte was asked if she would support an increase to the minimum wage.
Senator Ayotte responded that her concern with the federal government raising the minimum wage is that it would cut young people out of the workforce who seek entry-level positions. Instead of increasing the minimum wage, she would like to see Congress work together on policies that would put the country in a position to have better jobs.
Would raising the minimum wage cut young people out of the workforce who seek entry-level positions?
No. A recent rigorous study by economists at the University of California examining the impact of minimum wage increases on teen unemployment found that even minimum wage increases implemented during times of high unemployment – such as the recessions of 1990-1991, 2001 and 2007-2009 – did not result in job losses for teens or slow employment growth.
Critics like to suggest that the last increase in the federal minimum wage in 2009 caused a spike in teen unemployment. But as a NELP report demonstrated in 2011, teen unemployment rises faster than adult joblessness during every recession – whether or not the minimum wage goes up. This is because teens are the last hired, and so are always the first fired when the economy shrinks and adults compete with them for scarce jobs.
Senator Collins was hoping to find support from fellow Republicans to support a minimum wage increase under the proposed $10.10 per hour, but was unable to do so.
“I’m confident that the votes are not there to pass a minimum wage increase up to $10.10 therefore it seems to me to make sense for senators on both sides of the aisle to get together and see if we can come up with a package that would help low-income families with causing the kind of job loss that the Congressional Budget Office has warned against,” she said.
What impact would raising the minimum wage have on our struggling economy and businesses?
Raising the minimum wage right now is more important than ever. Minimum wage increases stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending, without adding to state and federal budget deficits. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy, and increasing demand is key for jumpstarting production and re-hiring. A raise in the minimum wage puts money into the pockets of low-income consumers, who immediately spend it at local businesses. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, would generate $22 billion in new economic activity in communities across the country. Strengthening the minimum wage can help build a sustainable economic recovery – without increasing costs for taxpayers.
And more families than ever are relying on low-wage and minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. This is because job losses during the Great Recession hit higher-wage sectors like construction, manufacturing and finance hard, while new job growth has been concentrated disproportionately in low-wage industries. Fully 58 percent of all jobs created in the post-recession were low-wage occupations, according to a 2012 report by the National Employment Law Project. This is not a short term trend – six of the top ten growth occupations projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for next decade are low-wage jobs, including home health aides, customer service representatives, food preparation and service workers, personal and home care aides, retail salespersons, and office clerks. Raising the minimum wage would boost pay scales in these types of jobs where millions of Americans today spend their careers.
The most rigorous economic research over the past 20 years shows that raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay without causing job losses – even in regions where the economy is weak or unemployment is high. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the past two decades of research and concludes that raising the minimum wage had no adverse impact on employment.
What can you do and what is the message?
Make phone calls, send e-mails, apply pressure.
Create better jobs Senator Ayotte. Build a package to support low-income families, Senator Collins. But at the same time, dignify work for those who want to work, by making it pay. No person working 40 hours a week or more, should be earning poverty wages.
GROWING UP GRANITE
Those who know me well will tell you that I am passionate when it comes to the subject of poverty, especially child poverty. I am privileged to work for an organization that allows me to invest my time and energy in advocating for children who live in poverty, working on solutions to poverty and the programs that serve our most vulnerable population, and educating our elected officials and the public about the hazards of growing up in poverty.
Sometimes I go to bed wondering why this work has chosen me as there are many days that I feel burned out and frustrated and powerless. But then I see the smiling face of a child in a Head Start program when he proudly shows me how he has learned to write his name, or I listen to a mom who is struggling to find a job that will pay her enough to keep food on the table and a roof over the head of her children, and the fire ignites once again.
There are a lot of great people who work on this issue. They proudly wear their orange badges in the Legislative Office Building and State House of New Hampshire. They sit in committee hearings, testify on bills, call and meet with legislators and the Governor’s office, meet and strategize with others who are working on the issues, and rally the troops.
Others do their work outside of the legislative process, working in the departments, agencies, and programs that serve children and families. Their dedication to those families and their willingness to share their knowledge with advocates and others is essential to the process.
As the New Hampshire legislative session comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the work they do. I also want to thank all of you who have answered our requests to write letters, call your representatives, talk to your friends, co-workers, and neighbors and have gotten involved. We could not do our work without your assistance.
We also could not have done our jobs without the voices of those who have been willing to tell their personal stories. They are the true heroes.
They often open themselves up to stereotyping and mockery from some of the people who have been elected to serve them. Their voices are important and necessary, as they speak with the knowledge and urgency that an advocate who has not walked a mile in their shoes can even approximate.
The Legislature has formed several study committees that will be looking at some of the programs and issues that affect vulnerable populations and we will be sharing the information with you as they progress this summer.
One of the issues that will be studied this summer is the use of Electronic Benefit (EBT) cards. Three bills from this session are being wrapped into this study, SB 203, HB 1213, and HB 1299. It is our hope that the voices of those who rely upon these programs will have an opportunity to be heard in these committee meetings as well.