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There are fewer and fewer avenues to the middle class for low-income families

Russell Sage Foundation, 2016

The Trump administration’s proposed budget would potentially cut housing subsidies, child care assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and other programs that serve the poor by staggering amounts.

In response to that, Stateside is beginning a new series looking at the so-called working poor — who they are, what challenges they face and what policy changes might help the most people.

Kristin Seefeldt is an assistant professor at the School of Social Work and the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Her new book, Abandoned Families: Social Isolation in the 21st Century, explores the difficulty of upward mobility for low-income families today.

Seefeldt defines the term working poor as those who hold jobs but whose income still falls below the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that’s $25,000 a year.

Over the course of her research, Seefeldt found challenges for low-income Michiganians wherever she looked. She points to several things in particular: the rising cost of post-secondary education, the shrinking government safety net and the lack of middle-class jobs.

“They were working as much as they could, sometimes starting their own businesses when their jobs weren’t paying enough,” Seefeldt said of the books’ subjects.

Seefeldt describes America’s low-income family’s as “socially abandoned,” increasingly left without the resources needed to improve their socioeconomic status. Despite their best efforts, they simply can’t get ahead with their current economic situations.

“Unlike some popular misconceptions that are out there, these were folks that were trying their best to get ahead, but no matter what happened there were roadblocks,” Seefeldt said.

Seefeldt also mentioned the changing relationship between employers and employees and the stratification of credit card offerings as other challenges to reaching the middle class. Overall, she said, hard work alone just isn’t enough anymore.

“Just getting the benefits to which you’re entitled to can be a real struggle,” she said.

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