Low-wage nation: poverty and inequality are threatening US democracy.
We certainly should worry about how the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans isn't paying its fair share of the cost of running the country. But we should be just as worried about how people at the other end are doing.
It's not just about the continuing wave of foreclosures. Millions of people are stuck in low-wage jobs that don't pay enough to make ends meet. And millions more live on incomes so low that it's hard to imagine how they survive.
Low-wage work is a pandemic. A third of our population ekes by on less than $36,000 for a family of three. That's 103 million people living on less than twice the poverty line, but most of them technically aren't poor or don't consider themselves poor. Yet they struggle every month to make ends meet and are one medical emergency or protracted illness away from bankruptcy.
Why so much low-wage work? Because over the past 40 years, well-paying industrial jobs disappeared, unions lost much of their clout, the minimum wage stagnated, and the field of competition in many areas became globalized.
The result: half of U.S. jobs now pay $34,000 or less a year. A quarter of U.S. jobs pay less than $22,000, the poverty line for a family of four. And the wages for those jobs have been stuck for four decades. Today, they pay only 7 percent more than they did in 1973.
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