As many Americans know, the public services and layers of infrastructure that contribute to their quality of life — from federally built and maintained highways to the hot lunches provided to school-age children — are the results of federal tax dollars. But what many Americans may not realize is that the workers who provide those public services that have become a standard feature of modern life earn barely enough to afford essentials like food, health care, utilities, and rent. Tax dollars may fuel the economy, but they can also exacerbate inequality.
On Friday, President Barack Obama left Washington for Baltimore, the second stop on his “Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour,” aimed at focusing attention to his efforts to improve the lives of middle class Americans. “I know it can seem frustrating sometimes when it seems like Washington’s priorities aren’t the same as your priorities,” Obama told an audience at a facility of the dredging manufacturer Ellicott Dredges. “Others may get distracted by chasing every fleeting issue that passes by. But the middle class will always be my number one focus, period. Your jobs, your families, your communities, that’s why I ran for president.”
Hard facts show a fairly grim picture of the employment situation in America.
“We find that nearly two million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family, making $12 or less per hour. This is more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonalds combined,” noted a recent report from Demos, a research and policy center focused on economic stability. At the very least, argued the organization, the American government owes employees on its payroll a livable wage.
Demos defines low-wage work as “a job paying $12 an hour or less, equivalent to an annual income of about $24,000 for a full-time worker. Nationwide, a family of four trying to subsist on $24,000 a year hovers near the poverty level. Even a single worker with no dependents would find no room in a basic budget for health coverage, a retirement nest egg, or building emergency savings.”