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Monday May 20, 2024

The working poor

By Mansoor Ahmad
June 04, 2023

LAHORE: With the budget around the corner it would be worth noting what measures the government takes to stop the regular increase in the working poor of the country. In recent years many well to do families have been relegated to the status of working poor. The bread earners in these families are still clinging to their jobs, but their wages have either remained stagnant or increased nominally compared with inflation. The cost of living in the meantime has doubled. They gradually lowered their living standards to cope with rising costs. But now the stage has arrived where many families cannot meet their genuine and barest minimum expenses from the wages they earn. They have fallen into poverty. The term "working poor" refers to individuals or families who are employed but still live below the poverty line. These individuals work, often full-time, but their income is insufficient to meet their basic needs, such as housing, food, healthcare, and education. The working poor typically have low-wage jobs, limited access to employee benefits, and may face challenges such as irregular work hours, limited job security, and a lack of career advancement opportunities. The working poor can include individuals from various backgrounds and demographics. They may include low-skilled workers in industries such as retail, hospitality, agriculture, and service sectors. It can also include individuals who are underemployed, meaning they have part-time work or are working in jobs below their skill level. Factors contributing to working poverty include low minimum wages, lack of affordable housing, limited access to quality education and healthcare, and the rising costs of essential goods and services. The working poor often face a cycle of financial instability, struggling to make ends meet and facing barriers to upward mobility.

Efforts to address the issue of working poverty include increasing the minimum wages, improving access to education and job training programs, providing affordable housing options, and expanding social safety net programs such as food assistance and healthcare subsidies.

The issue of families qualifying as working poor is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are some measures that governments could consider to address in this budget

It must increase the minimum wage to ensure that families earn a livable income from their work. This can help lift families out of poverty and reduce the number of working poor households. Those already drawing above minimum wage must be compensated by increasing their wages by the same amount that has been increased in minimum wage.

The planners must enforce and strengthen labor laws to protect workers' rights, such as ensuring fair working conditions, reasonable working hours, and access to benefits like paid leave, healthcare, and retirement plans. Provisions for subsidies or tax credits to make childcare more accessible and affordable, allowing parents to work without facing high childcare costs.

Measures should be announced to strengthen social safety net programs such as housing assistance, food assistance, and healthcare subsidies. Measures to incentivize businesses for providing fair wages and benefits to their employees. This can be done through tax breaks, grants, or other incentives that reward employers for creating quality jobs and improving the financial well-being of their workers.

Moreover, a strategy should be announced to reduce systemic inequalities, such as discrimination based on race, gender, or ethnicity, which can contribute to economic disparities. Empowering individuals with financial knowledge and skills can help them manage their resources effectively and improve their financial situation.

A comprehensive and collaborative approach involving government, businesses, and civil society is necessary to address the issue of working poverty effectively.