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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What, exactly, do Americans do all day?

Hanging a clock-editedLast week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released results from the 2013 American Time Use Survey. This survey, administered every year for the last decade, asks respondents–selected from people who have recently completed the Current Population Survey–to keep a diary of how they spent their time for a full 24 hour period. These data allow us to understand something about the “average” day not only for the population overall, but also for various subgroups, such as the unemployed or elderly. As you read, consider: How helpful is information about the “average” respondent?

While there is a fair amount of data to mine, let’s start at the highest level, by looking at time use on an “average” weekday across all respondents:ATUS_piechartPerhaps most notable is the sheer amount of sleep people seem to be getting: apparently, a healthy 8.5 hours a night. Not bad!

…however. As detailed over at Wonkblog, it turns out that “sleeping” is what happens between getting into bed and getting out of bed, and also takes into account naps. This way of calculating sleep doesn’t differentiate between deep slumber and “dozing off to Netflix” (I know I’m not the only one).  Similarly, things like “reading in bed” could feasibly occur during these otherwise allocated sleep hours.

And though 99.9 percent of all respondents reported that they slept at some point in the previous 24 hours, the time reported for other activities is averaged across everyone in the survey, whether they did or did not report them in their time-use “diary”. This is where we need to pay attention to what we mean by “average”. Continue reading

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.

Will promoting marriage solve childhood poverty in Virginia?

In 2011, one in three Virginia children lived in economic insecurity–either in poverty or in near poverty–as defined by Virginia Poverty Measure (VPM) poverty thresholds.  This statistic, among others, is discussed in depth in the Cooper Center’s newest paper, New Insights on Childhood Poverty: A Deeper Look into the Results from the Virginia Poverty Measure.

Slightly more than 13 percent of Virginia kids lived in poverty, according to the VPM. Another 18.5 percent lived beyond poverty, but below 150% of the VPM poverty thresholds. To put this into perspective, a two-adult, two-child family in Virginia with annual resources between $29,000 and $43,000 lives in near-poverty, while the same family living with resource totals below $29,000 would be considered in poverty under the VPM.*

Given the attention that marriage often receives from both pundits and policymakers as a a strategy to address childhood poverty, the paper released today focuses on the marital status of parents, comparing poverty and near-poverty across three groups: married-parent families, cohabiting-parent families, and single-parent families.  Our findings reinforce some common understandings of childhood poverty while also illuminating some of its less-frequently-discussed realities.  Continue reading

Family Matters

Hispanic_Family

About a year ago, the Demographics Research Group released a report entitled The Virginia Poverty Measure: An Alternative Poverty Measure for the Commonwealth.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be revisiting this topic with another report, this time focusing on Virginia children living in economic insecurity.

One of the most fundamental things that distinguishes the Virginia Poverty Measure (VPM) from the Official Poverty Measure is who “counts” as part of a family unit.  While applying a different definition of the family unit is only one aspect of improving the measure of economic (in)security, it is an important change because it lays the groundwork for an accurate account of income and expenses.

The official poverty rate is calculated by the Census Bureau using income limits applied to families depending on number and age of family members.  Larger families have higher income limits–“poverty thresholds”–than do smaller families.  Families headed by adults over the age of 65 years have lower income limits than families headed by younger adults.  According to the Census Bureau, a family is one or more people living together and related by birth, adoption, or marriage.

To understand why broadening the definition of family unit sets up a more accurate measure of economic (in)security, consider the following situations that arise under the Official Poverty Measure: Continue reading

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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Breadwinner Moms in Virginia: A closer look at single mothers

Asain Mother

Applying findings to Virginia from a Pew Social & Demographic Trends report, two previous blog posts examined breadwinner mothers in Virginia.  In the first post we found differences between married and unmarried breadwinner moms:

  • Households where the breadwinning mom was married had higher income levels
  • Married breadwinning moms had higher educational attainment
  • Even with the same educational attainment, married breadwinning moms earned more than unmarried moms (and worked more hours on average).

In the second post we examined differences between two groups of unmarried breadwinning moms – those who are single and those who are cohabiting with a partner.  We found that, between these two groups, a greater proportion of cohabiting moms and their children live in poverty, and that lower earnings among cohabiting moms are found even when we hold age and educational attainment constant.

In this post, we will wrap up by focusing on single mothers, the group that makes up the largest share (54%) of breadwinning mothers.[1] 

In light of stereotypes about single mothers represented in popular media, findings from the American Community Survey are particularly important to describing single motherhood in Virginia.

Single mothers in Virginia

The data about single mothers in Virginia points to an important finding: the lives of single mothers who have never been married is quite different from those who have been married before, even when holding constant age, educational attainment, or age of the children. For example, in Virginia, single mothers have median household incomes of about $28,000.  But when we examine marital history, we find some variation around that number. Continue reading