Mar 16, 2014
Nearly 9 of 10 Low-Wage Workers Fear They Can’t Make Ends Meet
Posted on Nov 26, 2013
Judging by the records being set on Wall Street and steady reports by corporations of high profits and hoarded cash, you’d think the economy was doing well. Yet a new poll reports that six of every 10 American workers fear getting fired or laid off, the highest measured level of job anxiety since the 1970s.
Welcome to the new America.
The poll, by The Washington Post and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, casts into sharp relief the everyday anxieties of the working poor, and argues that the sense of unease has become something of a permanent condition among people struggling to make ends meet. From the Post:
The mood even transcends our fractious politics. The Post reports that “once you control for economic and demographic factors, there is no partisan divide. There’s no racial divide, either, and no gender gap. It also doesn’t matter where you live.”
The Post framed the poll story around the daily life of John Stewart, 55, who makes $5.25 an hour plus occasional tips wheeling elderly passengers through a Philadelphia-area airport. Stewart has worked low-wage jobs since the 1970s, when the economy was strong and diverse enough to offer a place for a worker with a high school education and few skills. “In the years back then,’’ Stewart told the Post, “if you left a job, you were able to find another job, within the next day or the same week.”
Not any more. In 2010 Stewart lost a job at a New Jersey Wal-Mart—tardiness was the issue, he told the Post, due to relying on public transportation—and moved to Philadelphia to start over. It took him five months to find the airport job, and that was through a friend from church.
Ironically, although the poll found those at the bottom of the wage ladder have the highest levels of uncertainty, they also have the highest levels of belief that they will some day find better-paying jobs—even as they acknowledge they lack the means to obtain the kinds of skills that would help them do that.
That seems, though, to just reflect the relative space down the economic ladder, and above, as well as the gap between hope and reality. It also brings to mind that old Doors song, “Well, I’ve been down so Goddamn long/That it looks like up to me.”
—Posted by Scott Martelle.
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