Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

October 22, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Ind. working poor highlighted in pair of studies

State's low-wage jobs come with a price tag.

(Continued)

In the case of the fast food workers, the number is much smaller, but reflects a more worrisome trend: the ability to work a full-time job in America and still be, effectively, poor. Roughly 20,000 employees — 45 percent of the Indiana fast food workforce — receive some level of assistance.

The authors determined Indiana’s numbers are just slightly below the national figure of 52 percent of fast food workers receiving assistance. Among the most “surprising” discoveries: Many of the workers qualifying for public assistance were earning just above the poverty line and working 40 hours a week.

“In other words, public benefits receipt is the rule, rather than the exception, for this workforce,” according to the report.

Marcus, who has written extensively about the availability of jobs and levels of earnings, said Indiana may be unique among other states because of a work culture where residents would slog through low-wage jobs with the promise of better-paying union gigs in the manufacturing sector.

But, he said, that widespread strategy is decades old and most of those better paying jobs have disappeared. What have remained are the low-wage gigs.

At the macro-level, in state budget discussions, the central question has been: “What can the state, and thereby the state’s taxpayers, afford?” Apprehension over expanding health coverage, in particular, has centered on concerns over the price tag.

But the fast food report authors make the argument companies are upping costs to taxpayers.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs” continue to weigh on state leaders’ collective mind as much as any issue. Multiple task forces and study groups were set up this year by Pence and state lawmakers. And Pence tasked his new overarching education department with working on job-training issues as much as raw education policy.

Aside from setting minimum wage levels, there’s little the government can do directly to drive up wages and move workers off welfare — even though it’s clear those low-wage jobs come with a price tag much like the one affixed to the health care debate.

Tom LoBianco covers Indiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/tomlobianco.

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