Ending Poverty As We Know It

Ending Poverty As We Know It: Guaranteeing A Right To A Job

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Ending Poverty As We Know It
    Book Description:

    Across the United States tens of millions of people are working forty or more hours a week...and living in poverty. This is surprising in a country where politicians promise that anyone who does their share, and works hard, will get ahead. In Ending Poverty As We Know It, William Quigley argues that it is time to make good on that promise by adding to the Constitution language that insures those who want to work can do so—and at a wage that enables them to afford reasonable shelter, clothing, and food.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-777-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. I. Introduction
    • 1 Why a Right to a Job at a Living Wage?
      (pp. 3-16)

      There are approximately thirty million people in the United States who are working full-time but earning poverty-level wages. In addition, there are approximately fifteen million people who are either out of work or working part-time but would like to be working fulltime. Historically, the first response to poverty has been to advise the poor to work. But if the poor are already working or cannot find a job, what’s the next response? Usually, silence. And because of that silence, more and more people join the ranks of the poor.

      There is, however, a solution. By amending our Constitution to guarantee...

  5. II. Reeducating Ourselves about What It Means to Be Poor
    • 2 Myths and Facts about Poverty and Work
      (pp. 19-28)

      The very first time I taught my course Law and Poverty, I asked my students midsemester to anonymously suggest a person they’d like to have as a guest speaker. Some students, no doubt intending to challenge my liberal perspective, asked me to invite David Duke, then a Louisiana state representative, to speak about poverty to my class. Duke had just lost a close election to the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, even though he had received hundreds of thousands of votes. I was surprised by the suggestion and frankly did not know how to respond. Since I was a brand new...

    • 3 Our History Shapes Our Thinking
      (pp. 29-32)

      “Unless you start saving your money, you’re going to end up in the poorhouse!” Ever heard someone say that? Where does that saying come from?

      My students generally do not know that the United States was dotted with government and private poorhouses in the early part of the twentieth century.¹

      Poorhouses were real, and the fear of landing in the poorhouse was also real. That is where that warning comes from. The fear of ending up in the poorhouse has been handed down orally from generation to generation, even after the poorhouses disappeared. Yet poorhouses continue to shape our consciousness...

    • 4 Current Official Definition of Poverty
      (pp. 33-42)

      What is the official definition of poverty? How does the government decide who is poor? The news media report that the numbers about poverty went up or down or how many people are poor, and yet few of us know the official definition of poverty being used.

      Before discussing the official definition of poverty and its problems, I want to illustrate some of the problems with deciding who is poor by sharing two exercises that I conduct with my students.

      The first exercise shows the difficulty of trying to define what poverty is because our definition of poverty carries with...

    • 5 A New Definition of Poverty
      (pp. 43-52)

      Any new definition of poverty in America must be a reflection of our national commitment to justice, fairness, and the dignity of each and every human being.

      As Adam Smith noted in theWealth of Nationsin 1776, a country’s definition of what the necessities of life are is also a test of our national sense of decency.¹ No doubt there are a few in our nation who think that the avoidance of starvation is enough, and their definition of decency and poverty reflect that.

      I, on the other hand, believe that a majority of Americans takes seriously our national...

  6. III. Poverty and Lack of Work
    • 6 The Extent of Unemployment and Underemployment
      (pp. 55-64)

      There are people who sincerely believe that there is a decent job in our country for every person who wants one. They are very, very mistaken.

      Millions of people in this country are not working at all, and millions more are working part-time when they would like to be working fulltime. This lack of decent work occurs in good times and in bad. Whether the economy is up or down, there are millions of people who are unemployed, many apparently permanently. While millions of the poor do work, other millions of the poor do not work. Of these, the largest...

    • 7 The Cost of Unemployment and Underemployment
      (pp. 65-68)

      What is the cost to us as a nation of unemployment and underemployment?

      First, there is a personal cost to the unemployed. Consider the remarks of Shelley Haynes, age thirty-nine, who worked for fifteen years for a business before it closed two offices and laid off workers, including her. Ms. Haynes, interviewed while unemployed and enrolled in a training program, compared the shock of being laid off to the force of a death in the family: “It’s like a woman who got married and had kids and her husband passes away, and she has to go out into the working...

  7. IV. Work and Poverty
    • 8 The Working Poor
      (pp. 71-84)

      The usual first response to poverty has been to advise the poor to work. But if the poor are already working, what’s the next response? The next response is usually silence.

      One of every four workers in the United States, around thirty million workers, earns less than “poverty-level wages” or the hourly wage necessary to sustain a family of four even at the official poverty threshold.¹ This percentage of workers earning “poverty-level wages” has remained at around 25 percent since the 1970s.²

      If you add the thirty million people who are making poverty-level wages to the fifteen million to seventeen...

    • 9 Low-Wage Work
      (pp. 85-90)

      Millions of workers, one of every four in the United States, earn “poverty-level wages” or less than it would take to lift a family of four over the official poverty line. The minimum wage is certainly not a living wage, and yet millions of people earn wages within a dollar or two of minimum wage.

      One of the key problems with low-wage work is the minimum wage, which impacts, directly and indirectly, more than twenty million workers.

      Consider the following facts about the effect of a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage as of 2001:

      Nearly 10.3 million workers (8.7...

  8. V. A Constitutional Right to a Job at a Living Wage
    • 10 A Constitutional Amendment
      (pp. 93-99)

      America values work. We value self-sufficiency. Because of that, it is now time to make the right to a job at a living wage part of our national promise to one another. It is time again to amend our Constitution.

      As a country our highest civic values are incorporated into our Constitution. These are promises we make to each other. Many of our most cherished constitutional promises to each other are promises that came about as amendments to our original Constitution: freedom of speech, outlawing slavery, the right of women to vote.

      These rights were not always part of our...

    • 11 Support for a Right to a Job
      (pp. 100-116)

      The idea that everyone should have the right to a job to support themselves has been supported by Americans for decades. Providing opportunities to work has been a preferred governmental response to poverty for hundreds of years. Even prior to the twentieth century, state and local governments in this country created public job programs for those who needed work. Three times during the twentieth century a guaranteed right to employment was seriously considered by the Congress of the United States. While none of these prior efforts culminated in an enforceable right to work, each moved the country closer to that...

    • 12 Support for a Right to Living Wages
      (pp. 117-136)

      There is widespread popular, political, and religious support for the principle that those who work should not still be poor. Living wages are those sufficient to allow a worker and his or her family to be self-supporting.

      Advocacy for living wages is not a new concept but rather one that has been discussed for well more than a century.¹ There is growing energy in the living-wage movement because of a series of local victories that resulted in the enactment of a number of living-wage ordinances. More than fifty jurisdictions have enacted living-wage ordinances, and another seventy-five are engaged in ongoing...

    • 13 How Might a Constitutional Amendment Work?
      (pp. 137-158)

      In a church cafeteria where I had just led a brief discussion about establishing a right to a job at a living wage, an older woman came up to me and said, “I like what you say about amending our Constitution. I think everyone should have a chance to work. And I think that everyone who works should be paid enough money to live on. My question to you is, ‘How on earth are we going to do that?’ ” There are several ways that we as a nation can respond to that question.

      This book is intended to initiate...

    • 14 The Way to End Poverty as We Know It
      (pp. 159-164)

      Most people realize that our current system does not work very well for poor people, especially poor working people. We recognize that millions of people are working but are still poor. We want everyone to have the opportunity to work. And we want everyone who works to earn enough to support themselves and their families. But while most of us would like these things to happen, we do not know how to make them happen.

      We know there are some problems for those trying to find work, but most people do not know there are approximately fifteen million people who...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 165-222)
  10. Suggested Web Resources for Further Reading
    (pp. 223-224)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 225-240)
  12. Index
    (pp. 241-245)