We have all heard this notion that you just need to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and work harder to get yourself out of poverty. The idea behind our American Dream is that anyone who works hard will get rewarded. But how accurate is this?
It’s a lot more complicated than this.
Did you know that low income earners work just as many hours as middle income earners? People are working hard at all income levels, but not everyone is able to pay for all their basic needs — no matter how hard they are working. Why is that?
It turns out that even if they are working hard, they just are not earning high enough of a wage to meet all of their basic needs. With Oregon’s current minimum wage ($9.25), a family of 3 with 1 minimum wage earner would be considered as living below the poverty line (earning less than $20,160 for a family of 3). Learn more about the poverty guidelines here.
In addition, the majority (74.1%) of families experiencing poverty have at least one working parent. Again, the issue is not work ethic or not working hard enough, it is not earning enough in their employment to make ends meet. Learn more about working Oregon families here.
So next time you hear someone talking about how if that family just “worked harder” they wouldn’t be struggling to put food on the table, share some information with them so that more people are aware that hard work is not always a ticket out of poverty — livable wages are.
-Melinda Gross, Executive Director
- Bernstein, J., Mishel, L., & Boushey, H. (2002). The state of working America 2002-03. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. As cited by Eric Jensen in Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind (2013). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
- Oregon Center for Public Policy (2015). Poverty Despite Work: A Growing Problem in Oregon. Accessed online at: http://www.ocpp.org/2015/12/16/fs20151216-poverty-despite-work-oregon/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2016). Poverty Guidelines. Accessed online at: https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines