Good news, everybody! The U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs in March, lowering the unemployment rate to a slightly less depressing 8.8 percent. The bad news? Even if you have a job, you might not be able to afford a basic standard of living that covers the “cost of fundamentals like housing, utilities, food, health care, transportation and, in the case of working parents, child care,” according to a new study reported on by the New York Times.
The official poverty level in this country is $10, 830 for a single person, meaning that, theoretically, someone making double that should be able to live a normal life. Actually, not so much. The study, commissioned by the non-profit Wider Opportunities for Women, found that a single person needs to make at least $30,012 a year to live a secure, frills-free lifestyle where food, healthcare and transportation aren’t a problem.
That requires an hourly wage of about $14 an hour–almost double the national minimum wage of $7.25. When you add kids into the mix, things get even more expensive. A single parent with two kids needs to make $57, 756 ($27 an hour) for economic security while a couple needs to make $67, 920 ($16 an hour per person). Remember, we’re not talking about having enough for trips to Disneyland and nice dinners out. We’re talking making enough so that if someone gets sick their medical bills don’t condemn them to poverty.
The problem, of course, is that lots of people in this country don’t meet this income standard. In fact, in 2009, the Census indicates that 14.3 percent of Americans live below the poverty line, let alone the $30,012 the study recommends. The study doesn’t cite how many people are below that 30K mark, but the average per capita median income in 2009 was $26,530, meaning that a huge percentage of Americans are having trouble making ends meet.
So, what are the practical implications of this study? Hopefully one is that the “welfare queen” myth can finally be dispelled. As Carol Goertzel of Philadelphia non-profit PathWaysPA says in the Times piece: “Politicians are so worried about fraud and abuse … But they are not seeing the picture of families who are working but simply not making enough money to support their families, and need public support.”
Forget about utopia; we’re talking about making enough just to get by. In order to reach that point, we either need to make sure that jobs pay enough to support a basic standard of living or beef up public services so that making $20,000 doesn’t mean living without healthcare and access to good schools. Inequality and economic unrest isn’t good for anyone, including the rich. We have the highest GDP in the entire world; surely we can provide a basic, middle-class lifestyle to more of our working citizens.
Photo: Neubie, Flickr, CC