A New Safety Net for Low-Income Families
With funding from the Charles Stewart Mott and Annie E. Casey foundations, a team of Urban Institute researchers, including labor economists, health researchers, housing experts, and children’s policy analysts, has created a set of interconnected proposals designed “to make work pay in today’s economy.” According to a recent news release, these proposals, collected in “A New Safety Net for Low-Income Families," are “grounded in rigorous research and extensive knowledge about the lives of low-income working families, and they come at a time when the economic slowdown, housing meltdown, and rising fuel and food prices could overwhelm these families. Analyzing low-income adults as both workers and parents, the collection makes clear-eyed connections between private-sector supports (such as job benefits and working conditions) and public-sector supports.”
In an April 2008 analysis of the latest Census Bureau data, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute measured post-federal-tax changes in real incomes among high-, middle- and low-income families in each of the 50 states between the late 1980s, the late 1990s, and the mid-2000s. Their findings, aptly titled, “Pulling Apart: A State-By-State Analysis of Income Trends,” show that, “inequality has grown in most parts of the country since the late 1980s. The incomes of the country’s highest-income families have climbed substantially, while middle- and lower-income families have seen only modest increases.” Specifically, the analysis shows that, “On average, incomes have declined by 2.5 percent among the bottom fifth of families since the late 1990s, while increasing by 9.1 percent among the top fifth.”
There is strong evidence that changes must be made at the policy level in order to alleviate the struggles of the working poor in our country. The Urban Institute’s work contains eight proposals for just such policy changes. Now the work is in the hands of citizens to demand of their political representatives that such policy changes be considered, and where appropriate and feasible, implemented. This will require leadership at all levels of our communities—from grass roots to government officials. But there is no doubt that without policy changes that address these social ills, we will become increasingly unable to compete in the global marketplace, and the numbers of struggling working poor will only increase.