We continue our Poverty Series with a conversation about the working poor.
The phrase “working poor” is a difficult one. The poor have long been lectured that they simply need to “get a job” and that will be enough to fix all their problems. However, in 2019, thanks to stagnant wages that haven’t grown in almost 40 years, much less since the recession, having a job is not a guarantee of an escape from poverty. So how did we get to an economy where having a job is no guarantee of any kind of economic security?
Much of the change has to do with how the economy has changed. The days of getting a job and staying at the same company until retirement is a distant memory that hasn’t been true since the 1980s and the economic changes of that period. For many workers now, they are simply disposable on temporary contracts with no set shifts, hours, or guarantee of employment beyond the next schedule.
This economic change has been particularly felt in food and retail. The trend is now extending to other industries, especially in warehouses and other manufacturing jobs. These jobs are not unionized in any way, provide no benefits, and the agency that provides the labor gets a cut of all wages for providing the labor needed. Workers can get trapped in these positions never knowing if they will have a job even next week. It isn’t a wonder that this has profound political consequences, especially among white
A Permanent Underclass
The rise of this forever temporary worker creates a permanent underclass or as some call it the precariat. Those workers who are on the verge of homelessness and poverty because their job has no measure of security. Performance, hard work, and showing up on time are not an insurance policy against being fired. The company simply doesn’t need you anymore and like anything else that isn’t needed, the worker is simply discarded. This attitude has a direct relation to how companies and capital works but that is quite another story.
This new kind of employment is fine for those who work for large companies with skills that allow them to make good salaries. Google and other companies are increasingly using contractors for various projects. However, for poorer workers, this new economy can be a sentence of long-term poverty and precarity. This isn’t just an American problem either. This is becoming a global problem.
Working Poor in the UK
The worst part is that this isn’t just an America phenomenon. The UK has many similar problems as we do in the United States. Their austerity policies, enacted to trip the national budget during the recession, have left the social safety net in tatters and the living wage of just $14 (7 pounds, 50) leaves many in Britain working a job but still in grinding poverty.