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.
Download this report on PDF: GED in CT - a look at the data
The old GED exam is changing. Starting next year, the traditional pen-and-paper test will give way to a new, computer-based system. The transition raises some important issues: the new exam is more expensive, testing facilities need to be upgraded, and test-takers need to be made aware of the new format. CAHS is monitoring these changes, and working with other organizations and state officials to ensure that the new GED test improves on the old.
As we move to the new system, this is an opportunity to look at where Connecticut stands in terms of adult education.
Connecticut leads the US in state resources allocated per adult without a High School Degree or GED. We invest a considerable amount of money in adult education, as it stands now.
Connecticut is ranked first in adult education spending, nation wide. But, what are the returns of this investment? We enroll a lot of students in our adult education system.
Connecticut is ranked 7th in adult education enrollment in the country; we are working with a considerable amount of students in pursuit of their GEDs. As a result, the percentage of adults without a High School diploma or GED is well bellow the national average:
These figures, however, are not as impressive as the look. Connecticut is ranked 15th nationwide for adults 25 to 54 with a GED or High School diploma; 16th for adults 18 to 64. With all the investment and all the enrollments, the current adult education system is not reaching everyone. The breakdown by groups shows who:
Connecticut ranks 6th in the nation for educational attainment for non-Hispanic whites. On the other hand we rank 16th for Hispanics, 25th for African-Americans and 23rd for minorities, on aggregate. We are barely above average with groups other than non-Hispanic whites. This is a reflection of Connecticut’s vast wealth and income disparities (Connecticut ranks 49th on income gap between the top and bottom quintile of working families), and of the achievement gap in our education system, in part one of the consequences of inequality.
As Connecticut embarks on a new GED, we need to make sure our investment in adult education is going where it is needed.
 All data from the Population Reference Bureau for the Working Families Project and Complete College America.