The latest research from the Alliance for a Just Society shows just how difficult it is for people to achieve basic economic security here in Washington. The study, which analyzes household debt and surveys the wide the gulf between the state’s minimum wage and living wage for 11 states across the country, has some hard truths for our state, including:
- Average student debt at graduation was $23,293 in 2012, up 23% from 2008.
- Average credit card debt in 2013 was $5,269, compared to $4,965 for the nation.
- Average outstanding mortgage debt tops $203,000, and 19% of mortgages across the state are underwater.
- The annual earnings gap between the poverty level and a living wage is more than $20,000, and increases substantially with family size.
- The hourly wage gap between the minimum wage and a living wage is more than $6.00, and increases to nearly $11.00 (for each earner) for a family of 2 working adults and 2 children.
There is no magic bullet to promote economic security and upward social mobility – but there are an array of policy solutions we can employ to take them on, and they all start by making a significant cultural shift toward recognizing the value of our workforce and their families. The Alliance makes a number of policy recommendations, including increased investments in safety net programs, addressing medical debt, reinvesting in higher education, and restricting payday lending.
Ensuring access to workplace benefits, including health insurance and paid leave, for all workers would also provide a step toward economic security for Washington’s Working Families. Despite tremendous progress in health care reform, many Washingtonians will continue to go without coverage and care, in part due to lack of an affordable coverage offer through employers. Additionally, nearly one million workers across the state don’t have access to a single paid sick day, leaving workers and their children vulnerable to illness, loss in pay, or even retaliation from an employer when calling in sick. And far fewer have access to paid family and medical leave for instances requiring leaves longer than a few days, such as the birth or adoption of a child or to recover from a serious illness.
There’s tough news in the Alliance’s findings – but the good news is that there are a number of policy models we can look to and learn from, and our working families deserve that change!