Conference Explores Connections Between Low-Wage Work and Child Poverty

Jun 13, 2014

By Lauren French

More than 16 million children in the United States are living in poverty, making our child poverty rate—a shocking 23 percent—one of the highest in the developed world. Children are also the poorest age group in the country; while they represent just 24 percent of our total population, they make up 34 percent of all people in poverty.

Earlier this week, a conference held in Washington, D.C. brought together a number of experts to discuss policy solutions. Inequality Begins at Birth: Child Poverty in America, co-hosted by The Century Foundation, the Roosevelt Institute, and the Academic Pediatric Association (APA), focused on important issues such as the impact of toxic stress; the demographics of child poverty; the challenges facing working mothers; the need for higher wages and paid leave policies; and the importance of safety net programs.

One critical aspect of child poverty discussed by conference speakers is its inextricable link to low-wage work. “What's little understood is that the typical poor child lives in a household with a parent who's in the workforce,” said Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of CLASP. “Two out of every three poor children have a parent in the workforce; one out of every three of those children has a parent working full-time, year-round, and is still in poverty.”

Poor children are not only negatively impacted by parent's low wages but also by the lack of benefits afforded by those jobs—especially paid leave and paid sick days. “No parent should be stuck in a situation in which they have to make the hard decision about whether or not they want to be a responsible parent or whether or not they will be a dedicated employee,” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, author and former executive director of the National Council for Negro Women. Unfortunately, that is a very real struggle for the 70 percent of low-wage workers who have no access to paid sick days and the nearly half of low-wage workers who have no paid leave at all: no sick days, no family leave, no vacation. This creates a situation where parents who take time to care for their families may lose not only wages but also their jobs. Poor-quality jobs can be hazardous to family well-being and can perpetuate poverty.

The connection between parents’ low-wage jobs and child poverty has been increasing over time. According to Levin-Epstein,“low wage jobs are trending” and “the share of poor children with a parent working full-time, year-round has grown significantly over the last 20 years—up from one quarter to nearly a third.”

This conference and the corresponding research make clear that if we want to address child poverty, we must address the precarious situation of their low-income parents. Working families need decent jobs if they are to properly care for their children and ensure future prosperity.

To see the working parents panel at the conference click here.

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