Almost a quarter of the children living in America are growing up in poverty. Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington to demand jobs and freedom. We still have a long way to go to fulfill King’s dream.
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August 28, 1963 was the famous March on Washington to Demand Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King’s dream went beyond discrimination; his dream also included living wages and federally funded job training for the unemployed. In 1963, a living wage was $2.00 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, that wage today would come to just over $15 per hour. Fifty years later, the federal minimum wage is still half what King would consider a living wage, and children of working parents are growing up in poverty.
The Myth of the Welfare Queen
There is an urban legend that poor parents on welfare have kids so they can live on welfare and food stamps. When we look at the cost of raising a child, the amount of assistance available, and the plight of working families living in poverty, it becomes crystal clear that this myth is laughably unrealistic.
Federal Poverty Level
The current federal poverty level is $23,550 for a family of four, according to the NCCP. Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, but for descriptive purposes let’s say minimum wage workers are making $8 and not receiving benefits.
At $8 per hour and 40 hours per week, a minimum wage worker makes $320 per hour before taxes. If the worker almost never takes time off, and works 40 hours per week for 50 weeks out of the year, then his before tax annual income is 16,000.
If both parents work these hours at this pay, their before tax annual income rises to $32,000. However, the cost of child care is prohibitive, and the scenario is unrealistic. Two people with children can not keep up that schedule; kids get sick and can’t go to day care. They also should have doctor visits for vaccinations, day cares sometimes close on school snow days, and so this family of four gets plunged back down to below the federal poverty level.
The NCCP cites research that shows in order to reasonably get the bills and necessities paid for, a family of four needs about twice the federal poverty level. Now, our magic family of workaholic parents and children who never get sick, who are making $32,000 per year, are under the more realistic level of poverty.
Child poverty is a societal problem that affects us all, not just one family’s problem. The Children’s Defense Fund’s handbook, The State of America’s Children, lays out the statistics of what it means to grow up poverty-stricken. Children in poverty are often malnourished which affects their ability to learn. Their physical health suffers, as does their mental health as they grow up in the midst of their parents stress, looming homelessness and going to school with other children. Children in poverty are more likely to have behavioral problems, and if we don’t help them now we may be supporting them for years to come as they bounce in and out of the judicial system as young adults.
Raising wages so working people can afford to live and raise their families makes good financial sense for all of us. If gives more children the chance to grow up and become productive citizens, not drains on the judicial system. And it gives more families the opportunity to be a part of the middle class economy, which fuels all businesses in their neighborhoods. When people make money, they spend money on the things they need to live.
Living wages makes sense for all of society, both today and for future.
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