A sharp racial/ethnic divide has emerged within the world of low-income working families, posing a critical equity and economic challenge to Connecticut and the nation, a new study concludes
Unless lawmakers in Connecticut are willing to pursue policies that would improve conditions, African-Americans and Latinos will continue to emerge as a larger - but under-prepared and underpaid - segment of the workforce.
The disturbing portrait of America's low-income working families was sketched by the Working Poor Families Project based on new analysis of the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Project's study sheds a fresh light on what's happening inside the world of the working poor, where adults are working hard but find it difficult if not impossible to get ahead. And within this world at the bottom of America's economic spectrum, a stark divide has emerged between white and Asian families compared to black and Latino families.
"In 2013, working families headed by racial/ethnic minorities were twice as likely to be poor or low-income compared with non-Hispanic whites, a gap that has increased since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007," the authors write. "The significant differences among racial/ethnic groups present a critical challenge to ensuring economic growth and bringing opportunities to all workers, families and communities across the United States."
In Connecticut, there are 77,161 low-income working families, meaning their total income fell below 200 percent of the official poverty rate. Of that total, 38.6% percent are minorities compared to only 11.5% percent who are white. Some 37% percent of all black working families fall into the low-income category, as do 48.1% percent of all Hispanic working families.
These disparities impact our economy but they also harm the fabric of our communities here in Connecticut. It's past time that we address these problems at the state level.
Latinos are particularly at risk because so many of their low-income working families include at least one immigrant parent, the data show. Despite a high work ethic, Latino immigrants are among the most disadvantaged with lower earnings, less education and little healthcare. Nationally, some 14 million of the 24 million children who live in low-income working families belong to racial or ethnic minorities. This bodes poorly for the nation's future as children who grow up in low-income families face the very real prospect of never escaping poverty, the study found.
Disparities cannot be erased overnight, but policymakers can start to reduce the gaps with a two-pronged approach that simultaneously increases access to education and training while enacting policies that "make work pay," the researchers assert. State governments have demonstrated success with policy initiatives including:
- Raising the minimum wage.
- Increasing need-based financial aid for postsecondary education and expanding child care assistance and other supports for students with children.
- Supporting programs that link education to career opportunities and helping English language learners.
- Extending Medicaid benefits to all who are eligible.
- Encouraging employers to provide paid sick leave for all workers.
Providing all low-income families with the tools they need to succeed is critical to the long-term health of our state and nation. said Senserrich. Our state's leaders must take action to ensure the American Dream is once again accessible by all.