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Living Wages and Economic Security Out of Reach for Many Americans

*By Kate Meyer

The recently released report The Basic Economic Security Tables for the United States by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is attracting a lot of attention, though its findings are less than novel for all of the Americans struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. The most important message from the report is that the national poverty line is a gross underestimate. The report concludes that in order to reach economic security, workers would need to earn nearly triple the income that currently defines the national poverty level. (Check out this excellent graph for a visual). Right now, many Americans who are technically classified as above the poverty line are still not able to cover basic expenses such as food, housing, and child care, or to save for retirement, their children’s education, and emergencies.

We know that 60.7% of minimum wage earners, and 67.1% of those earning less than minimum wage, are women. And upon closer look, it’s 43% of single mothers, 38% of Black women, and 46% of Latinas who are in low-wage jobs. The WOW report found that a single worker with no children would have to earn at least double the minimum wage in order to have the bare-bones of economic security, and that workers with children, especially young children, would need to earn even more. It also concluded that of the predicted new jobs to be created before 2018, the majority would not provide wages which translate to economic security for single parents- most of whom are women. A lack of living wages, compounded with a dearth of social supports and a bogged down economic recession, are squeezing working families into a vise. These obstacles are all the more salient for women, who are now breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 6 of 10 American families. There has also been slow progress on other factors burdening women workers, such as the gender wage gap and the responsibility of unpaid care-giving.

Here at NCRW we’ve been tackling the intersection of these issues in our Economic Security Webinar Series. James Heintz of the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass, a recent webinar presenter, highlighted the need for more research on precarious employment, underemployment and part-time work. In our upcoming April 20th webinar Reimagining Poverty, we will hear from Melissa Boteach of Center for American Progress Action Fund about the upcoming supplemental poverty measure and from Emily Ryder of Single Stop USA about poverty alleviation through higher education, especially community colleges. Join in the discussion and RSVP here.

*Kate Meyer is a Research and Programs intern at the National Council for Research on Women. She recently graduated from Cornell University where she studied Government , Spanish and was a member of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board.

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