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Minority families struggle to break out of poverty, study finds

The working poor are disproportionately from minority families, researchers find

A generation from now, minority workers are expected to make up the majority of the American workforce. But today, their families are far more likely to be poor than their white counterparts, according to an analysis of Census data released Monday.

The study, by the Working Poor Families Project, showed that working poor families are three times more likely to be headed by a minority parent.

In California, 44% percent of families headed by a working minority parent are considered low-income, compared to 16% of white families, researchers found.

Nationally, a majority of the 10.6 million low-income families are headed by minorities, the study found. The national wage threshold for a four-person family with two children to be considered low-income in 2013 was $47,248.

Income inequality continues to increase, according to researchers, particularly among certain racial groups. In 2013, the median net worth of white households was 13 times higher than that of black families, the largest gap since 1989.

The disparity for minorities is so large not because “of a lack of work effort, but because they are more likely to be working in low-paying jobs,” researchers wrote in the report.

Beyond low wages, their jobs offer little opportunity for growth, few benefits and unusual work hours that complicate child care and transportation, researchers found.

Researchers recommended that state governments offer more tax relief to the working poor through programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. They also supported efforts to raise the minimum wage, such as a push in Los Angeles to lift pay to at least $13.25 an hour.

Education also plays a major role. Among working, low-income Latino families, more than half have at least one parent without a high school diploma.

“There’s no way California meets its economic needs by not having this group have the educational credentials to participate in the workforce," said Audrey Dow, a vice president with the Campaign for College Opportunity in California, which often partners with the Working Poor Families Project on research.

Researchers said states and schools should adjust educational programs to better serve minority workers. Options include providing affordable child care options at community college campuses, scheduling classes at different times and at work sites, even offering financial aid to students in the country illegally, they said.

“Today’s student body doesn’t look like it did 20 years ago -- not all students are 18 years old, right out of high school and starting on a four-year full-time college track,” Dow said. “They might be working full time, they might have families, they may have language barriers.”

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