WASHINGTON Â The Great Recession hit hard at America’s working poor, increasing the number of low-income working families by 246,000 in 2009 to more than 10 million and broadening the income gap between them and the nation’s wealthiest working families, according to a policy brief released today.
Latest U.S. Census Bureau data show that between 2007 and 2009 the share of working families that are low-income Â those earning less than 200 percent of the official poverty threshold -- jumped from 28 percent to 30 percent, the brief by The Working Poor Families Project found.
“During the Great Recession much attention, quite rightly, has been paid to the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs,” said Brandon Roberts, who co-authored the brief. “But there is another story in the federal employment statistics: More families who have managed to continue working are hard-pressed to stay afloat in the weak economy.
“Nearly 1 in 3 working families in the United States, despite their hard work, are struggling to meet basic needs,” he said. “The plight of these families now challenges a fundamental assumption that in America, work pays.”
The Working Poor Families Project, a national initiative supported by the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Joyce and Mott foundations, has analyzed the conditions of America's working families for the past eight years. Its latest analysis shows the 18-month recession that began in December 2007 raised the problems facing working families to a critical level, creating even greater challenges for them in their drive for economic success and security.
In 2009, a family of four with two children making less than $43,512 was considered low-income.
The brief showed that about 45 million people, including 22 million children, lived in low-income working families last year -- an increase of 1.7 million people from 2008. Children represented more than 700,000 of the increase.
Many working families headed by minority parents continued to struggle. In 2009, 43 percent of working families with at least one minority parent were low-income, nearly twice the proportion of white working families.
And the economic divide between those at the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottom grew even wider. In 2009, the richest 20 percent of working families took home 47 percent of all income and earned 10 times that of low-income working families Â a 5 percent rise in income inequality since 2007 and an 11 percent increase since 2004.
“This new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows the Great Recession has exacerbated an already serious American challenge: too many hard-working families earn incomes too low to achieve economic security,” said Deborah Povich, who co-wrote the brief and manages the WPFP with Roberts. “Policymakers cannot afford to ignore the declining conditions of working families.”
The policy brief, among other things, recommends that state and federal policymakers expand the number of working adults who enroll in education and skills development programs, and calls for an improvement in wages, benefits and supports for low-income working families.
“Although low-income working families remain mostly invisible to policymakers, these families are comprised of the workers who are the backbone of our economy: working the cash registers, keeping our homes and businesses clean, preparing our food, and helping to care for our children and our elderly relatives,” Roberts said.
“During these grave economic times, policymakers must choose to invest in low-income workers and their families. Such investments are vital for the U.S. to maintain a strong and growing economy,” he said.
The Working Poor Families Project was launched in 2002. With assistance from the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Joyce and Mott foundations, this national initiative annually examines the conditions of America’s working families and supports state nonprofit organizations to strengthen state policies in order to promote economic advancement and success.