Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not.
To afford basic necessities, the federal government estimates that Vanessa’s family would need to bring in $29,420 a year. Vanessa is not even close — and she is one of the lucky ones, at least among the poor. The nation’s safety net now strongly favors the employed, with benefits like the earned-income tax credit, a once-a-year cash boost that applies only to people who work. Last year, Vanessa received a tax return of around $5,000, which included earned-income and child tax credits. They helped raise her income, but not above the poverty line. If the working poor are doing better than the nonworking poor, which is the case, it’s not so much because of their jobs per se, but because their employment status provides them access to desperately needed government help. When life feels especially grinding, Vanessa often rings up Sheri Sprouse, her best friend since middle school. In America, if you work hard, you will succeed. Americans often assume that the poor do not work.
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