18 April 2008

The working poor

The New York Times is reporting today on the effect of the economic downturn on America's working poor - the bootstraps folks who are self-employed, the entrepreneurs who teach music lessons and do handiwork, the fabric of the country who work for themselves and who hold jobs that once gave them ample overtime hours that gave their family a cushion of income, a buffer that gave them a sense of security which is eroding paycheck by paycheck.

Says the New York Times, "The gradual erosion of the paycheck has become a stealth force driving the American economic downturn. Most of the attention has focused on the loss of jobs and the risk of layoffs. But the less-noticeable shrinking of hours and pay for millions of workers around the country appears to be a bigger contributor to the decline, which has already spread from housing and finance to other important areas of the economy."

One woman's monthly income has decreased by one-quarter - while she once could depend on $600 per week, she now makes do on $450 per week. Trips to the store are rationed. Families visit parks instead of museums. Parents take their children to thrift stores instead of the mall. (Heck, I'm shopping at ICB on Jefferson these days...) This decline has brought her salary from $31,000 to $23,000 - where once she was middle-income, she is now considered low-income, a phenomenon described in The Missing Class, a book about America's near poor.

According to the February 2008 Tennessee Labor Report, 20,000 people in Memphis City are unemployed (6.7%) - and this might be a conservative figure given that this only measures people who have actively sought work in the past few weeks. What about other people who have given up looking for work?

People who could once make it on one income are now taking part-time jobs to supplement what they've lost in earnings. This means more children spend less time with their parents, more families are stressed by financial worries, more families have fewer buffer resources to fall back on in case of emergencies or special occasions - a sick child, a flat tire or a prom.

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