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Ranks of working poor growing in state

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published January 15. 2013 4:00AM
Census shows 30 percent growth in few years

The number of families in Connecticut that are categorized as working poor has increased more than 30 percent in the past few years, according to a study released Monday by a national coalition.

The Working Poor Families Project, a national initiative to help people achieve middle-class prosperity, said in the report that new U.S. Census figures from 2011 show continued slippage in the numbers of Americans able to live a comfortable life. Nationally, 10.4 million families are now categorized as working poor, a 200,000 increase from the previous year.

In Connecticut, still with the fifth-lowest percentage of working poor among all U.S. states, families struggling to make ends meet have risen to 21 percent of the working population, five points higher than seen just four years ago. This compares with 32 percent of families being categorized as working poor throughout the United States, which is four points higher than seen in 2007.

"Although many people are returning to work, they are often taking jobs with lower wages and less job security compared with the middle-class jobs they held before the economic downturn," according to the report.

Jim Horan, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services, said in a phone interview that more people in the state are competing for fewer jobs. And with a surplus of labor, he added, employers are able to pay workers a lower wage.

Horan credited Connecticut and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with putting several policies into place, including an earned income tax credit for low-wage working households, to help struggling families. But he noted that the legislature last year failed to pass a minimum-wage hike that might have given the working poor a helping hand.

Low-income working families are defined as those earning less than twice the official U.S. poverty threshold, which in 2011 was $22,811 for a family of four.

Horan said a coalition this year called the Campaign for Working Connecticut will be encouraging lawmakers to increase the minimum wage as well as provide more funding for workforce training.

"Mostly, we are going to be playing defense: protecting programs that serve lower-income people," Horan said.

While Horan blamed the overall economy for many of the struggles experienced by working families in Connecticut, he noted that long-term trends such as companies cutting hours and reducing benefits also has had a deleterious effect.

"Connecticut needs to invest in human infrastructure," he said in a statement." More action is needed now to ensure that all families in our state can build a secure future."

l.howard@theday.com

MORE

Facts about the working poor

The Working Poor Families Project's analysis of new census data revealed these findings:

-- In 2011, about 29 percent of low-income working families included a parent who did not graduate from high school.

-- In 2011, 42 percent of all working families had at least one minority parent; among low-income working families, the number jumped to 59 percent.

-- 61 percent of low-income working families have a high housing cost burden, spending more than 33 percent of household income on housing costs such as mortgage or rent payments, utility costs, and other expenses.

-- Potential cuts in federal Pell Grants would make it harder for many low-income students to attend college.

Source: The Working Poor Families Project, www.workingpoorfamilies.org

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