Low Wages and Few Employee Benefits Result in Serious Economic Hardships

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New York, NY-November 6, 2003 – Low wages, few basic employee benefits, as well as recent measures taken to close the city and state budget gaps, have compounded the struggle to make ends meet among low-income New Yorkers.  According to the second annual survey of New Yorkers conducted by the Community Service Society, nearly half of poor New Yorkers reported three or more serious economic hardships over the past year, such as falling behind on rent (27%) or inability to pay for needed medical attention (27%) or prescription drugs (32%).  Even full-time work did not protect people against hardships: 22% of full-time workers living below the federal poverty line fell behind on rent, 21% postponed needed medical care, and 27% were unable to fill prescriptions.
The survey, The Unheard Third: Bringing the Voices of Low-Income New Yorkers to the Policy Debate, conducted for CSS by Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates, provides an in-depth perspective on how theprolonged economic slump has affected New York City residents living below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($30,520 for a family of three). The survey polled a total of  753 low-income New York City residents and a comparison sample of  259 moderate and  higher  income New Yorkers.
David Jones, president of the CSS, said, “Despite recent reports of an expanding economy and increased consumer spending, our survey tells a very different story, one in which families are scraping by to survive despite full-time employment.”
The survey revealed that basic employer-based benefits that most middle-income workers take for granted are often nonexistent for low-wage workers – even among those holding full-time jobs.  Among poor full-time workers, 44% said they are not offered health insurance, 63% don’t have a single day of paid sick leave, and 64% don’t get a paid vacation.
“Even if our economy continues to rebound, I don’t see that it will change the plight of low-wage workers unless the government steps in to ensure that a hard day’s work reaps wages and benefits that will meet the basic needs of families,” stated Jones.  “These people need help.  It is not surprising that a majority of our respondents were unhappy with the way our city, state and federal governments were handling the current economic crisis.”
One positive finding in the survey is that the people in the category of near- poor, or those families earning between 100% and 200% of the poverty line, seem to have rebounded since 9/11, and are reporting fewer hardships compared to our 2002 survey.
“This suggests that government policies
 aimed at increasing the income of the poorest New Yorkers could make a significant difference in their standard of living.  In the survey, 70 percent of the low-income respondents said they were registered and are likely to vote.  “This is a large group of voters whose concerns are consistently ignored by most candidates for public office.  Those who speak to their issues may be able to energize this untapped constituency,” said Jones.
CSS recommends the following income-boosting strategies to help low-income people get ahead:
*   Increase the minimum wage
*   Establish a floor of basic employee benefits and paid family leave
*   Expand access to affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers through construction, incentives, rent assistance, and realistic welfare shelter allowances
*   Provide property tax relief to low-income New Yorkers
*   Fix welfare policies to promote education and training
*   Increase funding to improve New York City’s public schools so that graduates are well-prepared for jobs and higher education
*   Expand access to government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance benefits to help low-income families meet their basic needs
Telephone interviews were conducted between August 25 and September 9, 2003, with a total of 1,012 New York City residents age 18 or older, including 753 low-income residents and 259 higher-income residents.  The margin of error for the low-income component is +/-3.6 percentage points; for the higher income component +/- 6.2 percentage points.
Topline findings and a more detailed report can be found on the Community Service Society website at www.cssny.org <http://www.cssny.org/>

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