Working should keep you out of poverty

In response to the article "Down and Out," which ran in the Mountain Xpress the week of May 5, and especially Christopher Head's excellent comment:

"I don't mind not making very much money, but I'd like to not have to worry about paying rent every single month. I don't feel that these lower-paying jobs are worthless: Someone has to do them. I'm not saying we should make tons of money, but since someone has to do these jobs, they should be able to afford to live [in exchange] for working all the time."

The connection between unemployment and poverty is fairly clear — no work, no income — but the connection between low-wage employment and poverty is not so often emphasized. Today, millions of working people struggle to cover the cost of housing, food, health care, childcare and other basic necessities. According to N.C. Employment Security Commission data released in 2009, 31 percent of the Buncombe County workforce earns less than the minimum required for an individual to afford basic necessities — that means that one third of Buncombe County workers are struggling each month to pay their bills. As Forbes' article states further on, 28 percent of all families receiving food stamps are working full-time.

I believe that working should keep you out of poverty. That working people have to rely on federal aid to make ends meet is not only counterintuitive, it's counterproductive: social services are more costly to taxpayers than they are valuable to recipients. Raising wages is a more effective way of boosting worker incomes and also builds economic self-sufficiency and job satisfaction among workers. Better paid, happier and healthier employees translates to lower turnover rates and training costs for businesses. Research shows that businesses that pay good wages are more likely to be sustainable in the long term, and (as Governor Purdue emphasized recently) strong local business are critical to our economic recovery.

How we handle poverty now affects the speed and sustainability of our community's economic recovery. Just increasing the employment rates in minimum-wage and low-wage jobs isn't enough to keep poverty out of Buncombe County.

What can we do to get over the hump?

Getting working people out of poverty is the first step. Employers, including Asheville city contractors, must support their workers by paying a Living Wage. For 2010, this is $11.35/hour or $9.85/hour with employer-provided benefits. Consumers must support these businesses and shop Living Wage Certified (look for the sticker emblem in store windows throughout Asheville).  And the broader community must shift its focus away from short-term fixes to poverty, investing instead in efforts that address the root causes of poverty and aim for a sustainable economic recovery that works for all.

— Sophia Hatz
Americorps VISTA, Voices Program Coordinator

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9 thoughts on “Working should keep you out of poverty

  1. Susan kask

    Sophia, you were right on. Excellent letter. There is one more piece. Consumers are willing to pay more for goods when they know sellers are paying a living wage. Preliminary research here in Asheville done by myself and some students suggests this. Also, the costs to employers are often overstated. your earlier letter may have addressed that. Thanks for keeping this in the news.

  2. Dirk Digglar

    If consumers are willing to pay more for goods/services to those who pay a ‘living wage’, then what say you about those employers who hire ILLEGALs for cash under the table?

    Do YOU know any local employers who HIRE ILLEGALS?
    If so, its time to call them out, IDENTIFY them online and otherwise, EXPOSE them, so that the LOCAL community can BOYCOTT these heinous employers!

  3. Johnny

    Dirk, I know farmers who are using illegals and I don’t have a problem with it. They’re doing work that most people (meaning white folks) don’t want to do, and if they do try it they can’t keep up with a “Mexican”. Those guys bust there asses and are part of the community. Not an issue with me.

  4. Dirk Digglar

    The poor in America are WAY more prosperous than in any other country because of government handouts, which needs to CEASE. WAY too many folks using EBT taxpayer money for their food, and Section8 for rental assistance. Time for this shite to STOP!

  5. Piffy!

    Dirk thinks that America should have a population as poor as those in third world countries. Interesting. And I guess your RAGE is reserved for poor people trying to eat and have shelter, not CEOs grabbing billions in taxpayer handouts.

  6. Sophia Hatz

    JWTJr-

    Thanks for asking for definitions. I used the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘living wage’ in a very simplistic way, but there’s a lot more beyond those words.

    I don’t agree with the way Human Health and Services, and US Census measures poverty- the methodology is outdated and underestimates the cost of living today- and I also think the term oversimplifies a complex problem. The federal poverty threshold is just a line that measures financial security (inaccurately at that) and doesn’t incorporate any other aspect of socio-economic development, justice or sustainability. It tells us very little about our economy, our communities and ourselves.

    Personally, I believe that ‘poverty’ is a problem that includes many other aspects of economic well-being, and I believe that economic well-being needs to be re-defined in this country, based on what communities determine is important to them.

    Living Wages is related to poverty in the sense that a Living Wage Income is sort of a new poverty line. If a Living Wage is the true minimum wage a person needs to be economically self-sufficient, then everyone earning below a Living Wage is in ‘poverty’. A Living Wage is calculated based on a method that more accurately reflects the costs of living today, and at least establishes an accurate measure of financial security. But again, there’s a lot more to economic well-being than wages and income.

    Like I said in my letter, Living Wages are a first step. What’s next? Maybe end the ostracization of ‘illegals’ ‘poor people’ and ‘third world countries’, ask them what economic well-being means and let’s build an economic future that works for all…

  7. Sophia Hatz

    JWTJr-

    Thanks for asking for definitions. I used the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘living wage’ in a very simplistic way, but there’s a lot more beyond those words.

    I don’t agree with the way Human Health and Services, and US Census measures poverty- the methodology is outdated and underestimates the cost of living today- and I also think the term oversimplifies a complex problem. The federal poverty threshold is just a line that measures financial security (inaccurately at that) and doesn’t incorporate any other aspect of socio-economic development, justice or sustainability. It tells us very little about our economy, our communities and ourselves.

    Personally, I believe that ‘poverty’ is a problem that includes many other aspects of economic well-being, and I believe that economic well-being needs to be re-defined in this country, based on what communities determine is important to them.

    Living Wages is related to poverty in the sense that a Living Wage Income is sort of a new poverty line. If a Living Wage is the true minimum wage a person needs to be economically self-sufficient, then everyone earning below a Living Wage is in ‘poverty’. A Living Wage is calculated based on a method that more accurately reflects the costs of living today, and at least establishes an accurate measure of financial security. But again, there’s a lot more to economic well-being than wages and income.

    Like I said in my letter, Living Wages are a first step. What’s next? Maybe end the ostracization of ‘illegals’ ‘poor people’ and ‘third world countries’, ask them what economic well-being means and let’s build an economic future that works for all…

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