The Real Poverty Line in America

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For all the optimistic talk of growth in the labor market - and the economy as a whole - the vast majority of jobs that are expected to be created in the coming years will not pay enough for average American families to get by, a new report shows.

Of the jobs that the U.S. Department of Labor predicts will be added by 2018, less than half pay average salaries that provide economic security for a household with two workers and two children, and only about 13% pay enough to adequately support a single parent household with two children, according to data from Wider Opportunities for Women, a nonprofit group.

“The American Dream of working hard to support your family is being rewritten by the growth of low-paying industries and rising expenses,” said Joan Kuriansky, the nonprofit’s executive director.

These lower paying jobs include positions like construction workers, food prep workers, and even in some states, registered nurses, all of whom are expected to increase their ranks in the coming years. While each of these positions generally pay salaries well above the minimum wage, the report finds they pay less than one needs to attain economic security, as the minimum wage is not necessarily an adequate living wage.

WOW crunched the numbers and found that a single adult with no children would need to earn an average of $30,012 a year – or nearly twice the federal minimum wage - to be considered financially stable, while a household with two income earners and two children would need to earn $67,920 annually.

In order to determine this, the nonprofit group took a sweeping look at the necessary monthly expenses of an average worker, calculated for each region and for the U.S. as a whole based on government data. So, for example, a single worker with no family pays an average of $688 each month for housing, $244 for food and $136 for health care, among other costs, as well as another $150 for emergency savings and retirement savings, which the group deems essential for one’s financial security. When added up, WOW got the $30,012 number, which ends up being a salary of just more than $14 an hour.

Workers with children had their costs calculated in a similar way, but with average higher education costs factored in and revisions made to the average tax credits these workers received.

In many states, the salary required for true financial stability is even greater, as the cost of living varies in different parts of the country. A single parent with two children needs to earn $57,756 each year, or roughly $27 per hour, but in Massachusetts, this same worker would need to earn just more than $30 per hour and in Washington, D.C., the number shoots up to nearly $41 per hour. By comparison, the minimum wage in these two states is just $8 and $8.25, respectively.

While some have complained before that the minimum wage isn’t necessarily a living wage, what’s particularly striking about this report is how otherwise respectable positions fail to provide the salaries required for one to pay their expenses and put aside money for retirement, college and general savings. Construction workers in D.C. earn an average of just $16 an hour, less than half of what one would need if they had two children, and registered nurses earn $36 an hour in D.C., falling just shy of the necessary wage.

Employees who fail to meet these wages are more likely to cut into retirement and education savings and to rely on supplement assistance programs for food and housing costs. Unfortunately, as the report notes, these same programs, like Medicaid, may be on the chopping block going forward as Congress fights to balance the nation’s budget.

If these cuts pass and the majority of new jobs do prove to be low paying, we may end up in a tense situation in the next decade, where most Americans are working again but few can afford to support themselves.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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