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4 charts that show how race makes a difference in the lives of working families


American working families aren't all in the same boat: among this group, white and Asian families are doing much better than families made up of other minorities, new findings show.

A recent report by the the Working Poor Families Project, which examined new Census Bureau data, also found that some of the fastest-growing minority groups — like Latino Americans — are also the most vulnerable when it comes to economic well-being.

For purposes of the study, a family was defined as "working" if all family members 15 years and older worked a combined 39 weeks or more in the prior 12 months, or if the family met those conditions and had one unemployed parent looking for work in the prior four weeks.

Racial/ethnic minorities, who made up 40 percent of the 10.6 million American families that fit this definition, accounted for a much larger percentage — 58 percent — of low-income working families.

This graph shows the percentage of working families who, according to 2013 data, had incomes of less than 200 percent of the poverty level. Fifty-five percent of Latino families, 40 percent of black families, 48 percent of American Indian families, and only 23 percent of white and 24 percent of Asian families fell into this category:

There are huge variations in the income ranges of working families from each racial/ethnic group. You can see on the graph below that the lightest blue bars — signifying working families that bring in $125,944 or more — are largest for white and Asian families and smallest for black, Latino, and American Indian families. Meanwhile, the darkest blue bars are largest for Latino and black families.

The study also looked at the most popular occupations among adults in low-income working families and found these, too, differed by race/ethnicity. For example, white people and American Indians were more likely to work as cashiers, while "personal appearance work" (cosmetology and the like) topped the list of professions for Asians, and Latinos most often did housekeeping work.

When it came to the economic status of racial/ethnic minorities across the country, the study found huge state and regional variations. Working families headed by minorities fare the best in the mid-Atlantic region, Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the Northeast. But there isn't a single state in which minority working families fare better economically than white working families.

The report's authors argue that eliminating the racial/ethnic poverty gap between white and minority working families could reduce the number of children in poverty by 45 percent by 2050 (compared with the number of poor children projected if the current disparities exist).

They propose these policy solutions to eliminate the gap:

  • Increase the minimum wage
  • Provide tax benefits through the state refundable earned income tax credit
  • Provide guaranteed paid sick leave
  • Enforce equal-pay provisions to reduce economic disparities between racial/ethnic groups, as well as the gender wage gap
  • Provide access to affordable child care
  • Support other programs that help low-income working families move toward self-sufficiency, including transportation, housing, and food and nutrition assistance
  • Expand access to retirement savings plans

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