April 3 2014

Joblessness Drives Poverty

Carrie L. Lukas

Here's a fact I think is too often overlooked when discussing solutions to poverty today: According to the U.S. Census, less than ten percent of Americans over age 16 who are considered “poor” by Census worked full-time in 2012. In other words, it is very rare that one works full-time and lives below the poverty line. The best way to help people get out of poverty is to make sure that full-time work is available.

Sadly, that's not the case today. There are million of Americans looking for work who simply can't find jobs in this economy. That includes four million women who look for work each week and find there are no openings for them.  That's a tragedy.

That's why job creation should be the most pressing issue for policymakers. It's also important to note that most workers who start at minimum wage quickly move up the earning latter. For example, the Employment Policy Institute found that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are earning more than the minimum wage within one year. Minimum wage jobs play a critically important role is starting someone's career – they give people important skills, a proven work history, and the chance to learn about other, higher-paying opportunities.  Yes, it's no fun working for low pay, but people earn more than a paycheck in these positions, the other benefits they receive are absolutely critical for doing better in the future.

It should be obvious, but somehow it remains controversial, that raising the minimum wage would mean a lot fewer minimum-wage jobs would be available.  When something costs more, employers can afford less of that something -- that's true whether we are talking about jobs or fuel or bananas.  And in fact, the Congressional Budget Office confirmed this logic, and estimated that the proposed hike to $10.10 would result in about a half-million fewer jobs by 2016.

How can it possibly be considered a good thing to push more Americans into unemployment and leave fewer job opportunities for those with the fewest skills? 

A minimum wage hike is not compassionate but is the enemy of those who want jobs and want to climb up the economic ladder.   

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