We talk a lot about poverty rates and about the ratio of incomes between the rich and the not-rich, but those measures miss a key view of the lives of working poor families.
In 2011, there were 83,000 families in Connecticut with children living at home and an adult working — but with income under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, a new report shows.
That was 21 percent of the 389,000 families with children and jobs — making Connecticut the fifth-lowest state by that measure of the working poor.
But it was up from 16 percent in 2007, making Connecticut one of the nine fastest-growing states when it comes to the percent of working families at 200 percent of poverty, a crucial measure of low income.
The report by the Washington, D.C.-based Working Poor Families Project, from Census data, doesn’t account for the cost of living in Connecticut. There’s only one poverty level, and in 2011 it was, for example, $14,710 for a family of two and $22,350 for a family of four — a lot less buying power in Connecticut than in Mississippi.
So the fact that we were the 5th lowest state in low-income working families, bested only by New Hampshire, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, says less than the fact that we joined such recession-wracked states and Florida, Michigan and Nevada in getting much worse between 2007 and 2011.
The data included only families with an adult who worked at least 39 weeks in each year, or who worked 26 weeks and looked actively the rest of the time. That means the measure is about quality of jobs, not government supports, which tend to muddy up poverty rates.
(Hard core data fans, click on this WPFP link and then on any of the excel links on the right for a flood of interesting metrics.)
“Connecticut needs to invest in human infrastructure. We need to make sure our citizens can work hard and earn a wage that sustains housing and health care and lets them provide for their children,” said Jim Horan, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services, which released the report in this state.
“More action is needed now to ensure that all families in our state can build a secure future,” Horan said.
There is no data for the percent of those 389,000 families who were under the federal poverty level in 2011. But in 2010, 5.1 percent of working Connecticut families with children were in poverty, up from 4 percent in 2006 — an increase roughly equal to the rise in the number of low-income families.
Nationally, there were 10.4 million working families with children that were under 200 percent of the poverty level in 2011, or 32 percent — up from 28 percent in 2007, a smaller percentage rise than Connecticut saw.
What all this suggests is that the value of work is falling everywhere, and the number of decent jobs paying wages that approach the middle class is shrinking in Connecticut.
“Family budgets were impacted by high transportation and child care costs at a time when often the only jobs that could be found tended to be in…occupations that do not pay wages adequate for supporting a family – including cashier, cook and health aide,” the CAHS report said.
“Clearly there have been positive signs over the past two years that the broad economy is improving, but the gains are not helping these low-income working families,” said Brandon Roberts, co-author of the analysis for Working Poor Families Project.
In Connecticut, where the earned income tax credit was enacted in 2011, it may not be reasonable to look for more taxpayer support for low-income families this year. But this report shows that further cuts in social services are unwise, and measures such as a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage would make sense.