Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Changing Face of Poverty

The Los Angeles Times has a lengthy investigative piece in Monday's edition (online today) about being poor in America today. Poverty looks more middle-class today; low-income people often have possessions like cell phones, wide-screen TVs, and good china. But what's also different is that

  • it takes working 2 or 3 jobs -- often part-time jobs -- to achieve middle-class status.
  • most of the jobs available to the working poor are temporary or part-time.
  • layoffs and company closings are more and more frequent.
  • an economy characterized by corporate giants offering lifetime employment has given way to an economy characterized by many more small and mid-size businesses - which create jobs but also hire fewer people and are more likely to fold.
  • health care benefits on the job are often nonexistent, or they come with ever-rising costs to the employee.
  • unions and high wages are not a feature of economic life in the U.S. anymore.

All of these factors are part of two huge sea changes in the American economy: One, the shifting of economic risk from the federal government to individuals; and two, the shift in the overall corporate philosophy from the idea, prevalent after World War II, that business has a civic obligation to provide good, high-paying jobs with employment security and employee benefits, to the contemporary idea that there is no inherent moral or ethical contract between employer and employee.

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