The Working Poor: Hard working and primarily of color

Sep 4, 2019

Well beyond living paycheck to paycheck, our community’s working poor, always find there’s more month than money. And while the struggle is the same for anyone who lives it, the number of people of color who fight that battle predominate. 

Credit US Bureau of Labor Statistics

As part of WBFO’s series on racial equity, Brigid Jaipaul-Valenza looks at  the difficulties the working poor face, and why.

For some 41 percent of Erie County families, it's a struggle to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and take care of their children.

Credit United Way of Buffalo & Erie County

“The system has very low thresholds that have not been adjusted for years, and although we know everything costs more it takes more to just make ends meet," says Brenda McDuffie, President of the Urban League of Buffalo.

While the issue spans all races and ethnicities, it does impact households of color more so.  A recent report by the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County breaks down the numbers: on average, 65 percent of Hispanic and Black fall into the working poor category, and 46 percent of Asian households also grind away at work, yet still can't afford basic necessities.

“There’s a higher percentage of families that are struggling with young children, particularly single heads of household, particularly on the racial equity side, people of color,” says Michael Weiner, President and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo.

Credit United Way of Buffalo & Erie County

At a recent meeting atthe CRUCIAL Community Center, McDuffie, explained where the burden falls.

“The population we’re talking about are predominantly women, who are raising children who are working maybe one or two jobs just to make ends meet.”

And she's quick to remind us that lack of employment, or an unwillingness to work is  not the problem.

"I’m going to tell you that the ALICE population as we’re calling it, are the hardest people in the world. They are extremely hard workers, it’s not about working hard, " McDuffie says.  “They work long hours, they work weekends, they work with a population that has very high demands and needs… so this is not about working hard, this is hard work”

-The issue also isn’t as simple as just earn more money, because that too comes with risk, if you earn more… but not enough.

“So they lose their eligibility for any kinds of supplements, so they continue to work harder and it’s just a day to day struggle," McDuffie says.