May 08, 2006


Caption: America's low wage working people are more likely to fall into poverty. Goat union leader Arcadia S. Venus asks, "Are you guys going to just sit there and take this? Here's a hint: the correct answer is 'No!'"

According to the New York Times, a new study shows that families struggling to make ends meet are increasingly at risk of falling into poverty.

"Americans on the lower rungs of the economic ladder have always been exposed to sudden ruin. But in recent years, with the soaring costs of housing and medical care and a decline in low-end wages and benefits, tens of millions are living on even shakier ground than before, according to studies of what some scholars call the 'near poor.'"

Sociologist Mark R. Rank of Washington University of St. Louis, is the author of a new book titled "One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All." A 2004 study by Rank and Daniel A. Sandoval and Thomas A. Hirschl of Cornell University found that for all age groups except those 70 and older, the likelihood of a fall into poverty rose sharply in the 1990s compared to previous decades and is likely to continue to increase.

For an abstract of the article, click here.

According to that study, titled "The Increase of Poverty Risk and Income Insecurity in the U.S. Since the 1970's," in the 1980s, about 13 percent of Americans in their 40s spent at least a year below the poverty line. By the 1990s, 36 percent did.

The Times article says that
Comparable figures for this decade will not be available for several years, but other indicators--a climbing poverty rate and rising levels of family debt--suggest a deepening insecurity, poverty experts and economists say.

More people work in jobs without health coverage, including temporary or contract jobs that may offer no benefits or even access to unemployment insurance. Medicaid is offered to fewer adults (though to more children). Cash welfare benefits are harder to secure, and their real value has eroded.

While 37 million Americans lived below the poverty level in 2004, another 54 million lived in households where earnings were between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty line. These families are increasingly vulnerable to a downward spiral.

Princeton sociologist Katherine S. Newman told the Times, "We don't track this group of people, and they are very vulnerable."

Triggering events for a downward plunge often include a health care crisis or layoffs.

These findings highlight the need for bold public policy responses, such as universal health care, public wage insurance, raising the minimum wage, and maintaining and improving the social safety net. Unfortunately, the current ruling clique has other priorities.


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