Reframing Discussions of Poverty and Welfare

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On Oct. 15th, University of California at Berkeley released the report, “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Foot Industry.” The report provides further evidence that not only debunks misconceptions about those who receive public assistance, but also shines a broader light on the benefits private businesses might be receiving via these programs.

The majority of people enrolled in major public benefit programs – 73 percent by UC Berkley’s finding – are members of the workforce. Unfortunately, their wages are so low that it is impossible to sustain a family independently, even with full-time work. They are forced to turn to public aid to meet basic needs. With this data, the report makes the case that public assistance dollars are subsidizing corporations who should pay their employees adequate wages.

According to the Daily Kos, the 10 largest fast food companies earned a profit of $7.44 billion with their top executives earning $52.7 million in 2012. Despite these profits, their employees were forced to depend on $3.8 billion in public assistance (see figure 2 below).

public assistance

People of low-income status are often those that come to bare the stigmatization over the need to turn to welfare and other public assistance programs to survive. The UC-Berkley Report demystifies this stereotype and offers broader view of the roots perpetuating poverty among the working poor.

Solutions
Check out Working People: Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of more than fifty community, faith, and labor organizations, that are currently working to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.00 per hour to $10.50 per hour, boost the minimum wage for tipped workers to 60 percent of the full minimum wage, and index both wage rates to rise each year with the cost of living. Organizers are working to collect the 100,000 signatures of registered voters needed to place the issue on the ballot in Nov. 2014. Increasing the minimum wage is a direct solution to poverty reduction.

Social Innovation: Safety-net services are essential in a civil society. However, public assistance programs at every level of government should connect recipients with asset building support that creates social and economic mobility. This kind of systems change is being tested by the Family Independence Initiative. Check out their Opportunity Platform model for reform.

Raise Your Voice: We must bring the hidden truth out into the open. Re-frame the discussion about the welfare system in your individual discussions with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Help them to look at this issue from a different lens.

About the author:
Julie Bolduc is a graduate student at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. She previously served as a Massachusetts state lobbyist at Charles Group Consulting, representing nonprofit organizations, associations and groups whose public policy and budget priorities serve the public good. As the Director of Grassroots Advocacy for Horizons for Homeless Children, Julie developed and launched “the Campaign for Young Homeless Children” in 2011. She began her career as an associate at the Dewey Square Group’s Washington DC and Boston offices, managing grassroots campaigns.

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