It’s May 1, the annual International Worker’s Day, yet even here in the United States the gap between rich and poor continues to grow wider. It’s a situation that is likely to become increasingly worse as Republican politicians uphold the interests of their campaign donors, fight to break up unions and block legislation meant to raise the minimum wage to something more closely resembling earnings that a worker will be able to live on.
While the first May Day was a worker strike to advocate for an 8 hour work day, more and more workers in the U.S. are stringing together two or three minimum wage jobs at a time in order to make ends meet. Where a reasonable set of working hours for one day for one job was won, we are now being forced to cover the same ground because one job no longer is enough to survive on.
For many, however, the dire situation of workers is lost because we simply no longer recognize what “poor” or “struggling” looks like. Reporter Annie Lowrey explores the new face of the “poor” American, a definition that is often dismissed because they look middle-class in their every day trappings. As Lowrey writes, with available cheap goods and the rising costs of day to day essentials, a person can appear well off in acquisitions yet can’t meet the daily bills that are essential to keeping a family in a home, children in daycare so parents can work, a car in gas to get to their employment, medical bills necessary to keep everyone healthy, or the educational loans taken out to get that job in the first place.
“The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans,” explains Lowrey. “And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.”
These changes in economic standards have hit low income women, especially those with children, the hardest. As the National Women’s Law Center reports, nearly one in five working mothers of very young children work in a low wage job. As such, they are both unlikely to be home to be a primary caregiver in their young child’s life at a time when he or she is forming the basis of his or her ability to learn, and unlikely to be able to afford high quality childcare to help their children meet those developmental needs. Their low wages are also likely to result in less abundance and quality in food, less reliable health care, and less stable housing in a safe neighborhood, all when a child is at its most vulnerable.
“More than half of mothers who have very young children and work in low-wage jobs are raising children on their own; half are working full time; and over one-third are poor,” writes NWLC in their brief. “They are disproportionately African-American or Hispanic. They are also less likely to have a college education than workers overall.”
Luckily, there are signs that things may be changing for today’s workers. Seattle has just announced that it will be hiking its own minimum wage up to $15 per hour by the end of 2019, and mandate increases yearly to keep up with inflation, a move that circumvents the reticence in Congress federally to address the needs of the workers. Likely other states will follow suit in some form, especially as they realize that a strong workforce and citizens with a living wage not only need less in support services, but stimulate the economy with their own spending, benefiting everyone.
The battle over an eight hour work day may be in the past, but today’s wage-based workforce is struggling as much as ever, especially women. Now it’s our turn to force through the reforms to change that.
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