Column, 408 words

Downwardly Mobile Nation

America's working class has been magically transformed into the working poor.

William A. Collins

Work my butt off
Plain to see,
Bootstraps are
No help to me.

Bridgeport — Connecticut’s largest city — is also my affluent state’s capital of poverty. Even though it’s part of the nation’s richest region, the rapidly rising number of children living in poverty in Bridgeport is already twice the state average.

Class segregation can help shield the elite from an uncomfortable set of facts. America’s median household income may have fallen sharply since the Great Recession began, but among the richest 5 percent, growth is back and robust.

While joblessness remains stubbornly high, poverty isn’t growing because of unemployment. Most low-income folks work one, two, or even three jobs. But with most new jobs paying between $7.69 and $13.83 per hour, as the National Employment Law Project has found, how can anyone survive or feed their family? This question gets harder to answer when so few new jobs include health care and other benefits.

Coupled with the growing number of states where unions have been declawed through so-called right-to-work laws, America’s working class has been magically transformed into the working poor.

Remember the budget showdown that made Congress ring in the New Year by squabbling over a last-minute fiscal deal? One of the things Republicans demanded was a cut in spending on food stamps. The final deal wound up only trimming federal spending for this important program by $110 million.

This is a symptom of Ebenezer Scrooge Syndrome. The Republicans afflicted with it celebrate their brand of Christmas all year round.

Meanwhile, the slow but inexorable growth of poverty is spreading across the nation and much of the world. Some European corporations have learned from American Scrooges how to pump up profits on the backs of employees, customers, borrowers, and compliant governments. Machines replace people, lower-skilled workers replace higher-skilled workers, unions are demolished, production is moved to the lowest wage lands, and benefits are trimmed to the meanest level allowed by law.


Alex E. Proimos/Flickr

And now The New York Times has discovered a new category of poor Americans. These young folks are only in their 20s. They’ve got some commendable college or work experience, but don’t even earn enough to club up for an apartment. Worse, their parents are too poor to house them. Our modern economy has created a whole new class of homeless people.

This disturbing trend has already inspired a successful sitcom: 2 Broke Girls. Surely more are in the works.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

  • Lori Lathrop

    Mr. Collins –

    I believe this trend will continue to get worse because of inflation – the same bag of groceries that used to cost me 50 dollars now cost me 100 and the packages are smaller so the food doesn’t last as long. I used to fill my gas tank with 25 dollars and now it takes 40 dollars sometimes more to fill it. Minimum wage has not gone up enough to keep up with inflation. Many kids graduating college can’t make enough to live on – never mind pay off their student loans…. eeeek!!!

    What do you think the solution is??? What has to happen to change this trend?