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The Vicious Cycle of Low Wage Jobs

November 29, 2012

“Motherlode” a section of the NYTimes devoted to “…the personal, cultural and political aspects of family life” has an article in today’s newspaper that describes the vicious cycle created when welfare, childcare, education, and entry-level employment are placed in impermeable silos. The title of the article is “How Children Subsidize “Low, Low Prices”” and the answer is through low, low compensation for entry level jobs, especially the welfare-to-work jobs:

… the types of jobs available to most lower-income parents, mothers and fathers alike, are low-wage jobs that present their own problems to those trying to  support and raise a family. The lack of benefits, the inflexible hours and the often nonstandard shifts exacerbate the low pay and create a situation in which parents don’t have the time they want and need to spend with their children or the money to find high-quality substitutes (like activities and child care) for that time.

So parents who work in low wage jobs— especially single parents— have no way of overseeing the care for their own children creating a situation that replicates itself in future generations:

Adolescents from households headed by a low-income worker are more likely to drop out of school, to be obese and to take on adult roles too young. In providing child care for siblings and forgoing opportunities that require an engaged parent helping with homework or encouraging outside activities, teenage children in low-wage families are, (Boston University sociologists) Drs. Dodson and Albelda argue, “effectively subsidizing” their parents’ employment as home health aides, janitors, food-service providers and retail clerks….

And children thrust into their own care-giving roles are children who aren’t easily able to develop the skills they need to do better than a low-wage job for themselves as adults. The low-wage job cycle becomes a vicious one.

This cannot be fixed by lower taxes and privatization of public services. The only fix, in my judgment, is to achieve some kind of shared vision of how we want our country to look 25 years from now and begin getting government agencies working together to achieve that shared vision. The current two party set up precludes any possibility of developing a “shared vision” because both parties seem beholden to the ethos of shareholder primacy— and there are fewer and fewer BIG shareholders and those shareholders want more and more influence over how the government works. Here are the comments I offered at the conclusion of the article:

This is the legacy of the “Reagan revolution”, the adoption of shareholder primacy, and our insatiable desire for cheap stuff… but not to worry, privatized schools will fix it all!

Reagan convinced the public that government was the problem and that welfare was all going to moochers who rode around in Cadillacs and had no desire to work… Ever since then we’ve seen the social compact compromised.

At around the same time corporations decided it was more important to give shareholders big dividends than to provide employees with good wages and benefits… and big shareholders decided quarterly earnings were more important than long term growth and stability… the result was cutting cost by outsourcing of work, reducing benefits and eliminating defined benefit retirements.

And throughout the ages (or at least my 65 years on earth) American’s want cheap stuff and lots of it… and that desire for cheap stuff means we bought into the “no new taxes” mantra and acquiesced when corporations cut costs because it meant lower prices.

As a recently retired public educator I can’t help but notice that schools are the ones held responsible for all of this and we’re now supposed to fix it… all by ourselves… without any more government funding. Fortunately (wink, wink) the private sector is going to rescue public education by introducing low paying jobs and online courses.


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