Race Matters: Living Wage Jobs in the Current Economy

It’s always been tough for working families in the Northwest to make ends meet. The recession has made it even harder – and harder still for people of color, who have historically faced racial inequities in the job market. The economic crisis has only worsened these disparities in employment, wages, and income.

Race Matters shines the light on wage disparities faced by so many families of color in the Northwest and Colorado. It takes a close look at jobs that currently exist in the economy and asks whether these jobs provide wages that can actually support individuals and families. It then examines whether people of color in the region are less likely than white people to earn a living wage. Finally, the report makes recommendations for policymakers with a focus on improving access to high-quality jobs for people of color and raising the floor for everybody.

Disparities in unemployment and in proportion of living wage jobs held

For many families in the Northwest and Colorado, household income does not meet the cost of living. This is particularly true for families of color.

In Colorado, for example, Latino households are the least likely to have incomes that meet a basic cost of living. Only 36 percent of Latino households have income sufficient to support a family of three. A mere 25 percent of Latino households could support a family of four. By comparison, 57 percent and 44 percent of white households, respectively, bring in sufficient income to meet those family needs.

These kinds of disparities run throughout the Northwest.

In Montana, barely a third of all households of color have income meeting the cost of living for a family of three. Only a quarter of Native households bring home enough income to support a family of four, compared to 36 percent of white households. And, in Oregon 67 percent of households lack income sufficient to support a family of four, with two working parents. That figure’s high enough – but it skyrockets to 81 percent for Latino households. The figures for Washington show a similar picture as illustrated in the graph above (click here for larger version).

A combination of factors accounts for these disparities, but it boils down to this: as tough as the job market is right now, it’s tougher for people of color, who are more likely to be relegated to low-wage or be shut of employment altogether.


So, what should policymakers do?

Our country has an opportunity to address these issues and rebuild an economy based on the common good. For a true economic recovery, policymakers should:

  • Support and expand social safety net programs that provide needed relief to families unable to afford a basic standard of living. This would include robust state level implementation of the recently passed health care reform law. Policy makers should also avoid cuts to critical state services that low-income communities rely on.
  • Target job creation strategies to reach communities long affected by economic stagnation. These programs should create living wage jobs that include opportunities for skills training. Communities should be directly involved in determining how economic recovery resources are used.
  • Ensure that financial institutions offer products and services that allow low-income communities to reinvest their resources locally, thereby strengthening the overall financial stability of the state and country.

Click here to download the full report.

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