Report says the working poor can’t rise above poverty

What do those Californians removed from the welfare rolls and moved into the workforce—theoretically at least—have to look forward to? Something considerably less than a springboard to success.

A great majority of the jobs available or projected for the near future fall far short of making ends meet and building a modicum of financial security.

To pay basic bills, a single-parent family with two children in California—the most common make-up of a typical welfare family—needs to earn a $43,443 salary, or $20.89 an hour. The annual income at minimum wage, currently $6.25 an hour, is $13,000.

“From what we know, and this is limited, people who are finding jobs after leaving welfare aren’t making anywhere near what it takes to make a living,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project.

Research shows that, in areas where unemployment is relatively low, workers leaving welfare for work earn about $9 an hour.

“A person moving into the workforce can expect wages roughly around the poverty line,” Ross said. “That is, if they are lucky enough to get a full-time, year-round job. And that is even in your part of the state [which has a relatively low cost of living].”

The established federal poverty level for a family of four is set at an annual salary of $17,650, far less than what it takes to pay basic bills.

“Much more than the poverty level—or indicators of the overall health of the economy—this study paints an accurate picture of the basic cost of living in California. And it’s virtually out of reach for millions of families,” Ross said.

The cost of living in the North Valley is still relatively low compared to the rest of the state. To pay basic bills in Butte County, a single parent with two children needs to make $33,897, the lowest in the state. But that’s with housing and utilities pegged at a stingy $537 per month. Child care takes the biggest chunk at $661.

Unfortunately, state forecasts predict most job growth will occur in such low-paying fields as retail sales, cashiers and general office clerks.

“The fact that the poor are becoming poorer is directly related to the reduced use of public benefits,” Ross said. “We know that thousands of people have left welfare in California, and that many of those do not receive the benefits such as food stamps and Medi-Cal for which they often are eligible.”

The California Budget Project, founded in 1994, says its goal is to provide Californians with "timely, objective and accessible expertise on state fiscal and economic policy issues." Its offices are in Sacramento.