Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

By Roberta Rehner Iversen; Annie Laurie Armstrong | Go to book overview

8 Jobs Aren't Enough

Toward an Agenda for Family Economic Mobility

How can people know what the problem is for more than a hundred years, put a
man on the moon, make planes fly, but not answer the question of why certain
classes of people are behind? If people would put the same focus and energy in
pumping more grant information, job programs, legal programs, and other
different programs that is out there, minorities wouldn't be stuck. —Kevin
McDonalds, Milwaukee

Why can't we help a few poor families that are trying to pay off debts get a fresh
start? We could help them by getting a wealthy person to pay off their debt and
get a tax deduction for that. This would help families and help the economy.
Hard Working Blessed, Milwaukee


FAMILY ECONOMIC MOBILITY TODAY

We establish at the beginning of this book that social and labor market conditions make it difficult for at least one in four workers in the United States to support their families, much less move forward economically through work. Long-held myths about unlimited opportunity, merit-based attainment, and individual responsibility for choices and outcomes are firmly entrenched in at least four of our major social institutions—family, education, firms, and the state, forming what we describe in Chapter 2 as the old paradigm for economic mobility. The institutionalized policies and procedures of these entrenched myths coalesce to constrain the economic wellbeing of many families—those with low incomes in particular, but increasingly those earning moderate to middle incomes as well.

We argue that a new paradigm for economic mobility is needed to realize the foundational American principle of real opportunity in contemporary society and to solve the wage inequality and disparate employment conditions that Osterman and colleagues (2001, p.181) call “the most pernicious labor-market problem of our time.” Krueger (2003, p. 10) concurs that there is “less mobility in income across generations in the U.S. than in most other countries.” A new paradigm recognizes that multiple intersecting institutions are implicated in economic mobility, that mobility is a thoroughly relational process, that choice making involves cognitive and emotional dimensions, and that mobility paths are increasingly dynamic and variable. Most important, instituting equity and real opportunity requires changes in what we call the “public will.”

The twenty-five key parents in this book show us that in many ways they are similar to millions of other adults across the United States that do not earn a family-sustaining income through full-time work. Chapter 3 articulates personal

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