State's low-wage workers lag even further in recession
Colorado's working poor families are headed in the wrong direction – down the economic ladder.
A new report by the Bell Policy Center finds that, even before the economic downturn, our state's poor and low-income working families were struggling and falling behind.
In 2004, the Bell Policy Center produced Opportunity Lost, When Hard Work Isn't Enough for Colorado's Families, a review of economic indicators and a status report on the state's poor and low-income working families.
In an update to that report, the Bell finds that working poor and low-income families now fare worse on many of the same indicators examined in our 2004 report. What is even more disconcerting is that much of the new data does not reflect the full effects of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Some of the findings in the current report, compared to our 2004 report:
The number of working poor families in our state has grown by 51 percent, from 32,124 families living in poverty, representing 5.8 percent of working families, to 48,410 (8.3 percent).
More than 25 percent of working families do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. That's 151,875 families. Six years ago, 20 percent were in this boat.
More low-wage workers have little security for the future, with the number of workers without any type of employer-provided pension growing by almost 275,000, to almost 1.7 million, since 2004.
"These are hard-working families, and they are not keeping up. That has grievous implications for the rest of us and for the economic health of our state," said Rich Jones, one of the main authors of the 2010 report. "When these families struggle to feed their children, when their children do not graduate from high school, when they cannot get job training to seek better opportunities, the rest of the state suffers as a result.
"It's true that economic conditions have been brutal, but there is a larger issue at work here: We as a state often do not support investments and policies that would help these families get on a path to self-sufficiency and success. As we look to the new year, we need to do better a better job of providing opportunities for working families to advance economically. We need to recognize that policies and ideas that create opportunities are an investment in our state, our economy and our future."
With an eye on the upcoming legislative session, the Bell Policy Center's report recommends policies and public investments in two key areas: adult basic education and making low-wage jobs more secure.
Almost half of poor working families have a parent without a high school diploma or a GED. Adults without a high school education are not prepared for the 21st century workforce. Expanding opportunities for adults to increase their education and develop greater skills can lead to a pathway out of poverty.
To bolster the low-wage workforce, polices such as the Earned Income Tax Credit can help make low-wage jobs pay better, and policies can also encourage partnerships with business to make it easier for workers to save for retirement.