The AP Puts Faces on the Poverty Numbers

The Associated Press fans out across the country to put faces on the poverty numbers released last week. Needless to say, this is what every news organization should be doing with this story, and the AP does a great job with this one.

The recession began nearly four years—and there’s no indication that the ranks of the poor will be shrinking anytime soon. More than 15 percent of the country now is officially in poverty. Worse, 22 percent of kids are poor.

The AP reports on seven people in six states, showing us a range of circumstances for how people end up impoverished. There’s the disabled, the unemployed, the disintegrated families. But at least two of the anecdotes show parents in poverty in no small part to their struggle to balance work and day care for their kids.

Here’s a 22-year-old woman in West Virginia:

Wells started working as a waitress at 17 and continued when she got pregnant last year. She worked until the day she delivered 10-month-old son Logan, she says, and came back a week later. But finding child care was a challenge, and about three months ago, after one too many missed shifts, she was fired.

In no time, she was homeless. The subsidized apartment in Kingwood, W.Va., that had cost her only $36 a month came with a catch: She had to have a job. Without one — and with no way to pay her utilities — she was evicted.

Note that Wells was already on welfare while she was working. She was probably getting an earned-income tax credit too. A big reason for that: The minimum wage is so low. You try making it on seven or eight or nine bucks an hour with a baby.

Here in Seattle, the minimum wage is relatively high, at $8.67 an hour, but the median cost for full-time day care for one baby is $1,259 a month. Gross income for a minimum wage earner here is about $1,445 a month (assuming 2,000 hours a year).

Another woman the AP profiles had four kids, two jobs, and a husband three years ago in Florida. That state’s economy collapsed and she lost her jobs and her husband but still has the four kids. They ended up in a homeless shelter in Alabama and now are in the projects:

Brown has been able to save about $100 and she’s still looking for work. But finding a job is difficult because she has to balance potential work schedules against her children’s schedules and the high cost of day care.

Smaller financial bumps an be devastating to the working poor too, as the AP shows here:

She needs to answer for speeding tickets she couldn’t afford to pay. That resulted in a suspended license, further limiting her ability to look for work.

But babies are huge financial hurdles. I’m particularly sensitive to this since I’ve got twin toddlers in expensive Seattle, but does anybody even talk about day care as a structural hurdle for the economy anymore?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,