In 2007, working families struggled to make ends meet in regional economies that continued to be marked by unprecedented inequality. Poverty stayed about the same, compared to 2006, but despite huge gains in productivity, most workers saw little or no increase in real wages.
On August 26, 2008, ten organizations in the Partnership for Working Families network released reports on annual census data regarding poverty, wages and income in their local communities. The reports highlighted these findings and connected them to real efforts on the ground to lift up working people and their communities by improving job quality and job access and developing public policies that establish a stronger economic baseline for workers and their families.
Across the country the data revealed a disturbing picture of rising inequality. Poverty was largely unchanged and incomes failed to keep up with rising costs of living. The regional reports helped put a human face on these trends. A New Jersey paper described the struggles of a mother of two who works two jobs but still cannot make ends meet.Kate Atkins, Executive Director of Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE) described the emergence of an hourglass economy in Newark in which you see job growth at the top and the bottom but we are losing the middle.
On the opposite side of the country, Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) used the data to document the emergence of a teardrop economy in which the top fifth of the population claims nearly half of the wealth in Phoenix. Whether you call it an hourglass or a teardrop, the point is the same: low- and middle-income workers are losing ground while more and more wealth is concentrated among the very few at the top.
“This is the first time in history that you have people who are working 40 hours a week and having trouble feeding their families and putting a roof over their head,” said Rachel Sulkes, Executive Director of CASE. “The idea behind America is you work really hard and your work is rewarded.If you look at these numbers that is increasingly less true.”
Real wages may be stagnant, but workers are not. Worker productivity actually increased in the last year, even as job growth was limited to low wage sectors. As Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute stated, “The American work force is working harder and smarter baking the economic pie, yet their slices are thinning.”
Through this exciting project each organization showcased its ability to provide high-quality economic analysis, and to place their campaigns within the economic context of their region.
Partnership staff worked directly with researchers across the Partnership to support this effort, a first for many of our organizations. In 2007, the four founding California organizations (EBASE, LAANE, WPUSA and CPI) pioneered this project, releasing reports on so-called Poverty Day that documented the severity of local economic woes. As a result of that effort, these organizations earned significant media attention, and established their capacity to provide valuable economic analysis.
Making the project accessible to organizations across the Partnership required tremendous collaboration. Murtaza Baxamusa, data wizard and CPI research director, created a template that would assist groups in downloading relevant data on the appointed day. Meanwhile, Partnership staff worked with researchers individually across the network, orienting them to the strengths and limitations of the data, walking them through key analytical challenges, and keeping them up to date on national trends and analysis that informed their local findings. Staff from the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) provided invaluable technical assistance as the project came together.
In previous years, census data could only be used to describe state-level economies, but in the last two years data has become available for counties and cities. This new level of data is important to our work because we all know how poverty and income statistics for states and even counties can distort the real picture.Families in urban areas account for a disproportional rate of poverty that is easily disguised by state stats. The new level of data gave our organizations a chance to establish themselves as experts on the local economy. The project was also a unique opportunity for our network to develop real working relationships among researchers, to learn from national experts and to enhance our data analysis skills.
Given the fact that our current state of economic affairs did not materialize until late 2007, what should we expect to see next year? Murtaza Baxamusa, research and policy director of CPI explained, “With inflation much higher in 2008, it’s going to be downhill from here. Families are facing a tougher struggle to get by.”While we all brace for the further decline of economic conditions, the organizations in our network are on the ground working for the creation of quality jobs and affordable housing.
This network-wide research project was a tremendous success for all of the organizations involved.Everyone’s hard work resulted in the release of ten reports on the same day that set the stage for further community benefits work, and widespread news coverage that resulted in more than 26 media hits across the county.This project serves as an example of the collaborative work our network is capable of as we look forward to expanding this project in the coming year.
The links to each organizations’ report and media coverage is below:
Central Arizonians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE)
Labor Day 2008: Rising Trend of the Working Poor in the Phoenix
Corinne Widmer, Research Associate
East Valley Tribune-Valley’s poverty rate increased slightly in 2007
Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)
Poverty, Job and the Los Angeles Economy
Jessica Goodheart, Research Director
Lauren Akins, Research Intern
Los Angeles Times-Poverty rate fell in 2007, census data show
Long Beach Telegram-Poverty Rate in L.B. falls to 18.2%
L.A. Daily News-Condition are poor in Northeast Valley
City Beat-Jessica Goodheart
KFWB News 980AM
KPFK Los Angeles Pacifica Radio 90.7FM
Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD)
OCCORD Policy Brief: Earnings, Poverty and Income in Orange County
Robert Nothoff, Policy Analyst
Puget Sound Sage
Earnings, Poverty and Income in the Puget Sound Region
Howard Greenwich, Research Director
Seattle PI-The money squeeze: Household income rose in 2007
Center for Policy Initiatives (CPI)
Earnings, Poverty and Income in San Diego County
Murtaza Baxamusa, Research Director
Voice of San Diego-Significant Stats
North County Times-Economy: Incomes dropping, costs rising
San Diego Business Journal-Poverty rate unchanged, census bureau reports
San Diego Union-Tribune-Census data show no rise in wages in 2007
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE)
Labor Day 2008: Economic Pain Plagues East Bay Residents
Jennifer Lin, Research Director
Nick Peraino, Policy Analyst
FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities (FRESC)
Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods (GJLN)
Report on Census Data
Pam Fendt, Executive Director
Community Labor United (CLU)
Issue Brief: Earning, Poverty and Income Inequality in the City of Boston
Mary Jo Connelly, Research Director
Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE)
Newark: Working Hard…and Still in Poverty
Dawrell Rich, Strategic Researcher
The Star-Ledger-Newarkers struggle as their income slips