Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Low-wage Work

Over half of all low-income children in the United States have a parent who works full time, year-round. But they work in low-wage jobs that typically offer few benefits (such as health insurance, paid sick leave, and retirement plans), little stability, and few opportunities for advancement.

Shifts in the economy have made it virtually impossible for workers without a college degree to command a living wage. “Work support” benefits—for example, earned income tax credits and child care subsidies—can help families close the gap between low earnings and basic expenses.

Research shows that a single parent with two children typically needs to earn $18.36 an hour full-time—or about $38,000 a year—to provide for the family’s basic needs. Yet the highest state minimum wage is $10.50 an hour, and the federal minimum wage is only $7.25.

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