Study: Minorities Fill Ranks of Working Poor in Chicago Area

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Byline: Amy Carr Daily Herald Staff Writer

Like thousands of other area residents, they go to work every day.

They often do the manual labor no one else wants to touch. And when they go home at night, they are exhausted and overwrought by the daily grind of making ends meet.

But for roughly 173,000 working families in the Chicago area, there is one key difference - they remain rooted in poverty.

They are, by definition, the working poor.

Working full-time doesn't guarantee a livable wage in this area and, according to a new study, Latinos and blacks make up a disproportionate share of the working poor.

A shortage of higher-paying jobs, a lack of training and education and old-fashioned discrimination are teaming up to keep minorities - even those who hold down full-time jobs - in poverty, experts say.

Although whites make up 71 percent of the local workforce, they comprise just 38 percent of the working poor, according to a study released today titled "Race, Ethnicity and Working Poverty: A Statistical Analysis for Metropolitan Chicago."

In contrast, blacks make up just 15 percent of the workforce, but represent 30 percent of the working poor. Latinos make up 10 percent of the workforce and 27 percent of the working poor population, the study states.

"There is an overall assumption that work pays for everybody in our society," said the author of the study, Sylvia Puente, director of public policy and advocacy for The Latino Institute. "What this report says is it does not pay for everyone in our society and it particularly doesn't pay for African-Americans and Latinos."

Those who routinely work with the suburban working poor were not surprised by the study results but said bringing about change is easier said than done.

"In the Fox Valley and Elgin area, I don't know if the opportunities are much greater (than in Chicago)," said Renard I. …