DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

PBS Connects the Dots: Welfare, Education, and the Economy.

This week I participated on a panel that was recorded for a joint venture with PBS and Democracy Now. It will air as a podcast on the PBS website. The panel was focused on the idea of a "Living Wage" as part of the POV TV series called "Waging a Living" running this month.

I was thrilled to be a part of an economic discussion. So often, conversations about people receiving welfare and education access are relegated to separate rooms when the economy is discussed. It is important to understand how low-income and middle-income plights are intertwined. When we have government policies that actively exclude people from access to education or labor standards, from safety, health and civil rights codes, and from all the things we know people need to succeed, it's time for some serious policy intervention.

One of the other panelists was an organizer with Domestic Workers United (DWU). In their new report, DWU estimates that there are over 200,000 domestic workers in New York City. The struggle these domestic workers face is to have their work recognized as real work deserving good wages and benefits. It's an uphill battle: as of right now, these workers are still excluded from Fair Labor Standards, from the Occupational and Safety and Health Act and from Civil Rights laws.

Here in NYC we have a living wage law that binds companies doing business with the city only. It affects a little over 50,000 people in health and child-care jobs. Clearly, there are many more workers in NYC that need a living wage, but don't currently fall under the purview of the city's ordinance. More needs to be done.

Poverty is the issue. So many families can't make enough for economic security. For example, families receiving welfare are in and out of low wage jobs without benefits or unemployment insurance, like so many poor families. Very often families who had been receiving welfare in the past have to return to the rolls in order to get the health care, housing or food stamps they need.

The richest Americans are pulling ahead of everyone else, making much more money than the rest of us. The average gain for low and middle-income workers was only 3% in 2003-2004. For the top earners, income went up 17%. An important step toward bridging the gap is access to education: studies show that people with higher education degrees get higher paying jobs.

The American Dream is not dead. It is dynamic. The systems and policies that support the dream, however, are squandering human capital by being tied to stagnate narrow-minded views . The panel this week was vibrant and hopeful with new perspectives.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:22 AM, Aug 04, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | Economy | Education | Welfare
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