Low-wage workers are more diverse than you think

The perfect cup of coffeeIn his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to “give American a raise” by increasing the federal minimum wage. For the second year in a row he argued “that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty”. Even with the presidential priority of raising the Federal minimum wage, the 2014 House bill was voted down. In spite of this, many states and cities have opted to raise the basic hourly wage independent of the federal government.

Raising the minimum wage will impact employers and employees alike, and through them the larger society. While fewer than three percent of US workers* earn the minimum wage (or less), 18 percent earn less than $10.10/hour (the amount proposed by the President).  Understanding how an increased minimum wage will affect individuals first requires examining common arguments about low-wage workers.

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“Seeing” Virginia’s Workforce

FlowingData_ScreenShot_Virginia_MedIncWhen it comes to interactive data visualizations, I am a junky. I don’t mean the dime-a-dozen country maps showing the favorite baby name/band/movie/current fad for each state. I mean the kind that present information in a way that surprises me, even when I am relatively familiar with the data.

The Demographics Research Group has created some really illuminating data visualizations highlighting residential segregation by race, educational division in Washington, D.C., and this older one on electoral changes in Virginia.

Today I spent quite a bit of time exploring this interactive chart of Jobs by State and Salary, created by Dr. Nathan Yau over at FlowingData. In this chart, Yau shows the number of people employed and the median income for all jobs in a state. The top image shows the occupations in Virginia with a median annual salary of roughly $33,000 or more highlighted in green.

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Extended Families: Weapon against Child Poverty?

Children living in married parent families are less likely to live in or near poverty than children in unmarried (either single– or cohabiting) parent families. Some policy advocacy groups use this to argue that marriage is the “greatest weapon against child poverty” because of the additional economic and human capital marriage adds to a household, even though there is no clear agreement about the precise ways in which parent marital status and childhood poverty interact. In fact, critics of the marriage-as-remedy position argue that economic risk may play a part in both child poverty and in the reluctance of parents to marry. As a result, they argue that economic ­– not relational – measures are the keys to reducing poverty.

However, this concentrated focus on parent relationship status overlooks another form of family structure pertinent to the well-being of poor children: the residential extended family.  These structures may allow families to pool economic and human resources to care for children and ameliorate the effects of tough economic circumstances. In 2011, one in ten Virginia children lived in a residential extended family.

Figure 1 — Children Living in Residential Extended Families by Type of Family

Blog-REF All kids

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Children living with married parents can be poor, too

Drawing on our recent report, New Insights on Childhood Poverty, Annie and I published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch over the weekend. In it we discussed the consequences of limiting the conversation about childhood poverty to children with single parents:

…focusing the conversation about childhood poverty exclusively on children of single parents renders invisible the largest group of children in economic insecurity: those whose parents have already taken a trip down the aisle. It turns out that the face of economic insecurity may, in contrast to the broader narrative, be a child supported by married parents.

As detailed in our report, one in three Virginia children live in economic insecurity. Almost half, the largest group, live with married parents.

Read the full op-ed here.

Counting all the concubines

United States Census 2010

When you sat down to fill out the 2010 Census form, what category did you choose for your relationship to the household head? Did you choose “husband or wife”? Or maybe “stepson or stepdaughter”?  “Roommate”? Did it strike you as odd that you couldn’t choose “concubine,” or “polygamous wife”? Or, better yet, did you wonder why the form even requested your relationship status in the first place?

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Changing Dynamics of Multigenerational Households, 1960-2010

Multigenerational black familyRecently, Pew Research Center reported on an increased prevalence of multigenerational families, in which children live in the same household as their grandparents. Nationally, roughly 1 million more children live in a multigenerational household in 2011 than did in 2000. In 2011, one in ten children live in a household configuration that includes at least one grandparent.

The Pew report points to the role of economic hardship, resulting from the Great Recession, in the increase of these households.  For example, parents who have lost homes due to foreclosure may decide to move with their children into their own parents’ homes. Likewise, grandparents whose retirement savings have been diminished may need to rely on their children for assistance in daily life.

Forming a multigenerational household is one way that families band together to provide for family members. It is a way of sharing economic resources to meet basic needs. In addition, it allows for the sharing of household work. This can take the form of grandpa and grandma watching grandchildren to free up other members to go outside the home and work. Continue reading