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Working and Poor

How Economic and Policy Changes Are Affecting Low-Wage Workers

Rebecca M. Blank, Sheldon Danziger, Robert F. Schoeni

Publication Year: 2007

Over the last three decades, large-scale economic developments, such as technological change, the decline in unionization, and changing skill requirements, have exacted their biggest toll on low-wage workers. These workers often possess few marketable skills and few resources with which to support themselves during periods of economic transition. In Working and Poor, a distinguished group of economists and policy experts, headlined by editors Rebecca Blank, Sheldon Danziger, and Robert Schoeni, examine how economic and policy changes over the last twenty-five years have affected the well-being of low-wage workers and their families. Working and Poor examines every facet of the economic well-being of less-skilled workers, from employment and earnings opportunities to consumption behavior and social assistance policies. Rebecca Blank and Heidi Schierholz document the different trends in work and wages among less-skilled women and men. Between 1979 and 2003, labor force participation rose rapidly for these women, along with more modest increases in wages, while among the men both employment and wages fell. David Card and John DiNardo review the evidence on how technological changes have affected less-skilled workers and conclude that the effect has been smaller than many observers claim. Philip Levine examines the effectiveness of the Unemployment Insurance program during recessions. He finds that the program’s eligibility rules, which deny benefits to workers who have not met minimum earnings requirements, exclude the very people who require help most and should be adjusted to provide for those with the highest need.  On the other hand, Therese J. McGuire and David F. Merriman show that government help remains a valuable source of support during economic downturns.  They find that during the most recent recession in 2001, when state budgets were stretched thin, legislatures resisted political pressure to cut spending for the poor. Working and Poor provides a valuable analysis of the role that public policy changes can play in improving the plight of the working poor. A comprehensive analysis of trends over the last twenty-five years, this book provides an invaluable reference for the public discussion of work and poverty in America.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: National Poverty Center Series on Poverty and Public Policy

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

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Introduction: Work and Poverty During the Past Quarter-Century

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pp. 1-20

Fluctuations in the economy have a strong effect on the extent of poverty and well-being among low-income families.1 Reduced economic demand during recessions can significantly increase the unemployment rate, as was the case in the early 1980s. A sustained economic expansion can substantially

Part 1. What Is Changing in the Labor Market for Low-Skilled Workers, and Why?

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pp. 21-22

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1. Exploring Gender Differences in Employment and Wage Trends Among Less-Skilled Workers

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pp. 23-58

As many of the chapters in this volume emphasize, labor force participation and real wage rates among less-skilled men have fallen since the late 1970s.1 A substantial literature has investigated the declining returns to...

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2. Wage Trends Among Disadvantaged Minorities

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pp. 59-86

The resurgence of large-scale immigration in recent decades fundamentally altered the racial and ethnic composition of the disadvantaged population in the United States.1 In 1960, 21.3 percent of working men in the bottom...

Part 2. How Do Economic Trends Affect Less-Skilled Workers

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pp. 87-88

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3. The Macroeconomy and Determinants of the Earnings of Less-Skilled Workers

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pp. 89-112

Poverty is a condition with multiple causes, but every analysis agrees on the importance of the earnings of less-skilled workers.1 Macroeconomic— that is, economywide—influences determine average earnings. This chapter looks at data from the U.S. economy...

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4. The Impact of Technological Change on Low-Wage Workers: A Review

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pp. 113-130

The relationship between technological change and the earnings of less-skilled workers is one of the oldest issues in economics (Berg 1984).1 Renewed interest in the link was spawned by labor market trends in the 1980s, including the decline in real wages for younger and less-educated workers...

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5. The Changing Patterns of Wage Growth for Low-Skilled Workers

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pp. 141-172

One of the fundamental facts in labor economics is that, on average, wages tend to rise rapidly early in a worker’s career.1 Since wage growth during the early stages of one’s career provides a potential pathway out of poverty, it is important to understand what causes this wage progression and how...

Part 3. How Do Macroeconomic Changes Influence Well-Being Measures Beyond Income?

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pp. 173-174

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6. The Level and Composition of Consumption over the Business Cycle: The Role of "Quasi-Fixed" Expenditures

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pp. 175-204

The years from 1988 to 2000 spanned large changes in the macroeconomy. There was a sharp economic downturn in the early 1990s, a long and robust expansion in the mid to later parts of the decade, and an economic...

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7. Recent Trends in Resource Sharing Among the Poor

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pp. 205-232

During the 1990s, the U.S. economy experienced sustained economic growth with low levels of unemployment and high levels of wage growth accruing across the skill distribution.1 Along with this robust economic performance, there were substantial changes in economic and social...

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8. Economic Conditions and Children's Living Arrangements

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pp. 233-262

Household and family living arrangements have become increasingly visible in public policy discussions, especially with the passage of the landmark Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act...

Part 4. How Do Policy Changes Interact with the Economy and Economic Well-Being

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pp. 263-264

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9. How Do Tax Policies Affect Low-Income Workers?

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pp. 265-288

The study of tax incidence under the U.S. tax system has a long and impressive history that has proceeded along many different complementary paths.1 Arnold Harberger (1962) laid the groundwork for distributing the burden of taxes. Beginning with the pioneering work of Joseph Pechman and...

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10. State Spending on Social Assistance Programs over the Business Cycle

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pp. 289-311

The passage in 1996 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) brought about a major change in the way the federal government and the states share financial responsibility for cash assistance and related...

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11. Temporary Agency Employment: A Way Out of Poverty?

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pp. 312-337

One in eight Americans and one in five children under the age of six lived in poverty in 2003, according to official U.S. Census Bureau statistics.1 Poverty is strongly associated with lack of full-time, year-round employment. Government programs such as welfare-to-work and the Workforce...

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12. Child Support and the Economy

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pp. 338-365

As the proportion of children living with both parents has fallen and as public support for sole-parent families has been reduced, child support has become a crucial source of income for single-parent families.1 In this chapter, we describe the logic and outcomes of the child support system and...

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13. Unemployment Insurance over the Business Cycle: Does It Meet the Needs of Less-Skilled Workers?

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pp. 366-395

The unemployment insurance (UI) system is one of the primary ways that the government seeks to alleviate the hardship associated with an economic downturn.1 It was first introduced in the United States at the national level as part of the 1935 Social Security Act to provide financial...

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14. How Is Health Insurance Affected by the Economy? Public and Private Coverage Among Less-Skilled Adults in the 1990s

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pp. 396-426

In 1992, 38.6 million Americans were uninsured (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Mills 2004). Eight years later, at the end of the longest economic expansion in the United States since World War II, the number of uninsured had increased...


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pp. 437-438

E-ISBN-13: 9781610440578
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540751
Print-ISBN-10: 0871540754

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: National Poverty Center Series on Poverty and Public Policy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Poverty -- United States.
  • Temporary employment -- United States.
  • Unemployment -- United States.
  • Labor market -- United States.
  • Unskilled labor -- Supply and demand -- United States.
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