Nearly a Third of Working Families Considered 'Low-Income'

Even for those who have a job, it's still not easy to get ahead

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According to a report released this week, nearly a third of American working families are now considered low-income, earning less than twice the poverty threshold. The report [PDF], released by the Working Poor Families Project, shows that 30.1 percent of working families--about 45 million people, including 22 million children--"are struggling to meet basic needs." The report also notes that the percentage of low-income working families "with at least one minority parent" is nearly twice as high as the percentage of low-income white working families. These findings are reminiscent of last month's report that 15 percent of households struggle to put food on the table. Here's how bloggers and journalists are reacting:

  • The Income Gap Is Getting Bigger  "The richest 20 percent of working families now take home nearly half (47 percent) of all income," the report notes, "and income inequality is increasing each year." William Alden at The Huffington Post spells out what this means: "The American middle class, in effect, is eroding."

  • No Way to Get Ahead  "People are less concerned with career advancement and more focused on just making sure they can meet their family's basic needs," notes Bryan Hood at New York Magazine. "Even those who would like to move on to a better job are hamstrung by the risk of losing a consistent paycheck if they strive for more."

  • This Didn't Happen by Accident  At Daily Kos, Timothy Lange writes that "it's almost tiresome to have to repeat that the acute problems pointed out in this report are firmly grounded in three decades of government policies that have promoted stagnant wages, off-shored jobs, union-busting, soaring income-and-wealth inequality, a weakened safety net, all of it combined with a relentless drive to keep going in the same direction."

  • Hard to See This Getting Better Soon  Michael Fletcher at The Washington Post notes that "with a spate of fiscal conservatives poised to enter Congress and with policymakers more tightly focused on the nation's huge budget deficit, the prospects of maintaining past spending levels on programs that help enable social mobility are dimming." Fletcher quotes Brandon Roberts, a co-author of the report, who says that "clearly... we are not making sufficient investments to help working families get ahead. Unfortunately, the constraints on the budget are going to make this even more difficult going forward."

  • This Is the Tea Party, Right Here  "If the unemployment problem risks becoming politically invisible, then the plight of the working poor was never visible in the first place," writes Felix Salmon at Reuters. "But looking at this chart, it's easy to see why large swathes of America are angry at their government. If Barack Obama wants to understand and fight back against the fundamental drivers of Tea Party sentiment, he should concentrate on precisely these numbers."

  • Let's Look at Those Graphs Again  A graph in the report shows an increase in the percentage of low-income families between 2007 and 2009. The Atlantic's Megan McArdle points out, though, that the bottom axis of the chart is actually the 25 percent marker. When the graph bottoms out at zero, the results seem decidedly less dramatic: "It looks like the percentage actually doesn't change that much, moving up slightly in recessions, and down slightly in good times ... In the top graph, the changes look approximately five times bigger than they are." McArdle adds that "this is not to downplay the problems of poverty and near-poverty" but "simply to point out that things can look very different depending on where you start the Y axis."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.