News from EPI EPI Press Release


Thursday, February 14, 2002

Nancy Coleman or Karen Conner, (202) 775-8810



One in Five Fulltime Low-wage Workers Can’t Afford
Basic Necessities

People who left the welfare system to enter the workforce during the late ’90s significantly increased their family’s risk of critical economic hardship. Among the families that went from welfare to full-time, full-year employment in 1997, 29% suffered hardships; in 1999, the hardship rate for welfare-to-work families reached 45%. This is the troubling message delivered today by economist Heather Boushey in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

“Nearly 37 million Americans are going without some basic necessities, such as food, shelter, or medical care,” Boushey, a specialist in economic hardship and trends among lower income workers and families, told the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. “One out of every three working families with young children is not earning enough to make ends meet.”

Boushey explained that even working full-time during the recent economic boom, many families fell short of the basic income level they need to pay for just the bare essentials such as food, housing, child care, and health care.

Those basic family budgets vary by geographic region across the U.S., ranging from $21,989 per year in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to $48,606 in New York’s Nassau and Suffolk counties for a one-parent working family with two children under twelve. (For detailed information on basic family budgets throughout the country, visit: and click on “ Poverty and family budgets” under Issue Guides in the right column.)

Nearly 30 percent of families with income at this basic family level suffered at least one critical hardship, such as going without food or needed medical care or losing their housing.

“The families who moved from welfare to work held up their part of the bargain,” said Boushey, “but they’re still waiting for their government to keep its promise of a real chance at a better life.”


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