Friday, October 08, 2004

Topic for Debate 

Via Mick Arran of Net Politik: A study to be released next week claims that 9.2 million working families -- one-quarter of the total nationwide -- are earning so little money they can barely scrape by. (And remember, these are working families, in which at least one person has a steady job; the numbers above don't include the unemployed.) Low-income and poor working families include twenty million children. From Bob Herbert of the NYT:
The median income for a family of four in the U.S. is $62,732. According to the study, a family of four earning less than $36,784 is considered low-income. A family of four earning less than $18,392 is considered poor. The 9.2 million struggling families cited by the report fell into one of the latter two categories. And those families have one-third of all the children in American working families.

Not surprisingly, the problem for millions of families is that they have jobs that pay very low wages and provide no benefits. "Consider the motel housekeeper, the retail clerk at the hardware store or the coffee shop cook," the report said. "If they have children, chances are good that their families are living on an income too low to provide for their basic needs."

Neither politicians nor the media put much of a spotlight on families that are struggling economically. According to the study, one in five workers are in occupations where the median wage is less than $8.84 an hour, which is a poverty-level wage for a family of four. A full-time job at the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is not even sufficient to keep a family of three out of poverty.

Families with that kind of income are teetering on the edge of an economic abyss. Any misfortune might push them over the edge - an illness, an automobile breakdown, even something as seemingly minor as a flooded basement.

For the families in these lower-income brackets, life is often a harrowing day-to-day struggle to pay for the bare necessities. According to federal government statistics, the median annual rent for a two-bedroom apartment in major metropolitan markets is more than $8,000. The annual cost of food for a low-income family of four is nearly $4,000. Utility bills are nearly $2,000. Transportation costs are about $1,500. And then there are costs for child care, health care and clothing . . . .

[Co-author Brandon] Roberts said he hoped the study, titled "Working Hard, Falling Short," would help initiate a national discussion of the plight of families who are doing the right thing but not earning enough to get ahead. "Seventy-one percent of low-income families work," he said. More than half are headed by married couples. But economic self-sufficiency remains maddeningly out of reach.
Meanwhile, Max B. Sawicky, the least dismal of dismal scientists, comments on the latest jobs report (the last to be released before the election):
Today's BLS jobs report shows the labor market is weak. Payroll employment rose by 96,000 in September, well under the 150,000 needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population. Moreover, the revised numbers for the past three months reflect the same weak pattern.

This time there is no help for the Bushoids in the other survey, of households. They used to like to point to it as the more relevant, up-to-date source of inspiration for jobs springing from entrepreneurship, like mowing your neighbors' lawns cause your job has been out-sourced. But that number is much worse -- a net loss of over 200,000 jobs for September.
Max also links to the following exchange from Lou Dobbs Tonight on CNN:
ROGER ALTMAN, SR. ADVISER TO SEN. KERRY: Well, I hope he does talk about his economic record because that's a hard thing to do. They like to talk -- as this gentleman just did, -- about the difficulties they inherited and all of that, but if you look at the performance of the economy over the last three months, a period when none of the factors that that gentleman just mentioned, including 9/11, have anything to do with it. The percentage of Americans working in this country has gone down, not up. And family incomes have gone down and not up. Let me be very specific. The percentage of Americans working has gone down because the job growth rate has been anemic and slower than that necessary to keep pace with population. They say, wow, we have created 1.7 million new jobs. That's not enough to keep up with population growth. And in fact, the average job growth in the eight Clinton years on a monthly basis was 250,000. That's average over eight years. They have had two months that did that, and on incomes, it's very simple. Inflation is subdued but nevertheless it's running faster than wages. So on the two acid tests, jobs and income, the last three months those excuses they make don't pertain. They're both down.

DOBBS: Ron Christie. Please, you don't have to wait for me.

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. ADVISER TO PRES. BUSH: Yes, if I may respond to that. See it's more of the pessimism that we hear from the Democratic side. The truth of the matter is that the economy has grown by 4.8 percent over the past several months this year. We've had 107,000 new manufacturing jobs in the United States. The economy continues to recover and the president's tax policies are one strong step, as pointed out by Alan Greenspan, to take us in that right direction. Unfortunately, the Democrats don't have a strong economic record to run on. They don't have a strong economic plan. President Bush does have one in place. He continues to want to train American workers to make sure that we're competitive abroad but to make sure our manufacturing base here in the United States is sound and our economy continues to expand.

ALTMAN: Well, Lou, I am sure you would like this to be animated so let me in that spirit respond. The Democrats don't have a good economic record to run on? Hello, how about the Clinton years? 23.5 million new jobs, 11.5 in the first four years. Their record? 1.6 million down. Growth? Average Clinton years, 3.8 percent. Bush so far, 2.6. Anybody who says that the Bush years were better than the Clinton years is living on another planet. And I noticed he did not address my response on jobs and income during the last three months. Let me hear what he has to say on those two factors in the last three months, jobs and income.
"If this is any taste of what we'll get tonight," says Max, "Georgie might as well move back to Palookaville today."

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