In the US, Parents Working Full-time Struggle to Earn Enough for a Family to Survive

Historic practices and policies perpetuate poverty pay in jobs typically worked by women and people of color

Seattle, WA -  During this season of abundance, many full-time workers don’t earn enough for a single person to survive, much less to support a family. The staggeringly low percentage of women and people of color earning a living wage in the US is especially distressing. 

“Equity in the Balance,” a new report by The Alliance for a Just Society, was released today by The Main Street Alliance. The report details just how few women and people of color in the US make a living wage – enough income to cover basic expenses of a full time worker and their family, with some money left over for savings.

Only 61% of all full-time workers in the US earn a wage that will allow them to make ends meet. Even more troubling, only 57% of women, and just 52% of the latino community make this living wage.

“It is a fundamental American value, if you work full-time you should be able to support yourself and your family,” said Stephen Michael, Campaigns Manager of The Main Street Alliance. “Small business owners agree that if you’re working full-time, you shouldn't be living in poverty. We know that when our employees are earning more, they have more to spend in our local businesses, which boosts our entire economy."

For more than 200 years, policies and practices in the U.S. have perpetuated low wages in jobs and industries primarily worked by women and people of color.  Women of color particularly struggle, making difficult choices to provide for their children.

“A system that unjustly and persistently leaves people of color overrepresented in low wage work is tantamount to economic racism,” said Jill Reese, associate director for Alliance for a Just Society. “And, policies that keep women over-represented among low-wage workers is gender discrimination.”

It’s time that  lawmakers change history, raise the minimum wage and ensure that all have access to paid sick days to assure that all full time work pays enough for a family to do more than barely survive – that workers earn an actual living wage that helps families thrive.

  • Invest in state and federal safety net programs, such as childcare assistance. Until there are enough living wage jobs to go around for all household types, families will continue to face tough choices.
  • Strengthen and enforce equal opportunity statutes, including affirmative action: Equal opportunity statutes were designed to help ensure that women and people of color are not discriminated against. However, enforcement of these policies isn’t consistent, leaving the statutes weak and ineffective.
  • Guarantee paid leave that includes maternity leave and parental leave to care for sick children. Many workers risk losing their jobs or income, if they are too sick to come to work or if they need to care for a sick child
  • Expand and Strengthen Social Security: Because women and people of color earn less, they are less able to save for retirement and forced to depend solely on Social Security.

“Equity in the Balance” is the second in the 2014 Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series. Alliance for a Just Society has produced a Job Gap Study on jobs and wages since 1999.

Data from the Alliance’s Job Gap Study has figured prominently in debates on minimum wage, paid sick days, payday lending, Medicaid and other family economic issues.