Job Gap: More Working Families Struggling to Make Ends Meet are Sliding Deeper into Debt
A living wage in Oregon is $23.94 for a single parent with one child.
Families are losing hope of ever having economic security
Medford, Oregon – Working families are out of balance – costs are climbing and paychecks are shrinking. Workers who don’t earn a living wage can’t make ends meet. On top of that, many are struggling with deep debt, especially student loan and medical debt.
“Families Out of Balance” is the first report in the 2014 Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series, produced by the Alliance for a Just Society. The report, released today by Oregon Action, shows that a living wage in Oregon ranges from $15.96 per hour for a single adult to $30.75 for a single adult with two children.
Nationally, the report reveals a shocking disproportionality in the burden of debt shouldered by low-income families, compared to wealthier families. The Alliance has produced the Job Gap Study on jobs and wages since 1999.
Yet, despite having far less income for each dollar of debt, our study shows that 89 percent of low-income families prioritize making debt payments on time – sometimes going without food, heat or other basic necessities.
Meanwhile, the minimum wage in Oregon is now $9.10. As a result, even full-time workers can’t make ends meet, much less save for the future or for emergencies.
Our report looks at five household types in Oregon, you can read it here. There is also a national report and data for other states and counties. It’s available at thejobgap.org.
A living wage is the hourly pay needed to cover the cost of housing, food, utilities and other expenses, including modest savings.
“The release of this report around Labor Day weekend is timely to say the least,” said Darlene Huntress, Executive Director of Oregon Action. “As we celebrate workers across our state, this report shows a stark reality for many of them. And even as we boast one of the highest minimum wages in the country, Oregon’s wage floor still falls short of a living wage, denying workers the ability to support themselves and their families. Whether we are talking about student loans, credit card debt, healthcare or housing costs, Oregon families are struggling to make ends meet and $9.10 an hour doesn’t come close to what workers need to cover the cost of living.”
In addition, research in “Families Out of Balance” will be critical as policy makers debate minimum wage increases. While Seattle recently set the bar with a $15 minimum wage, others, including the federal government, haven’t kept up. The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009.
Our study finds that even $15 an hour doesn’t cover the true cost of living. In the 10 states studied for the report, that amount would only meet the living needs of a single adult (without children) in two states: Idaho and Montana.
“It’s outrageous that our nation’s leaders have failed to increase the federal minimum wage for five years. They are failing our families, and they are creating an economic and social disaster,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society.
“Lifting the minimum wage to a true living wage is the first step to giving all families a level playing field,” she said.
Gladys Alverez from Medford, whose story is featured in both the state and national reports, is finding that her minimum wage job at a local hotel leaves her nothing at the end of the month to save or spend. “ Right now, I only have $40 in my bank account,
but I owe $2,000 in medical debt from an emergency room visit for stomach pain. Without savings, we can only afford to pay the minimum of $60 on our two credit card bills. I pay $300 to $400 a month to feed our growing kids. I’m working as hard as I can, but I don’t know how I’m going to make it with this debt and this stress.”
We are happy to help you contact Gladys and other families willing to share their stories on trying to make ends meet and pay their bills on less than a living wage.
The Alliance for a Just Society and Oregon Action call on Oregon leaders to take action now to create real economic stability for working families. We recommend these policy changes:
- Increase the federal minimum wage
- Abolish the federal tipped minimum wage
- Reinvest in higher education
- Address medical debt acquired before the Affordable Care Act
- Expand Medicaid eligibility
- Regulate payday lending
Oregon Action is a statewide, non-partisan network of people and organizations dedicated to social, economic and racial justice for all through individual and group empowerment.
Alliance for a Just Society is a national research, policy, and organizing network that advocates locally and nationally for economic and social equity.