A 21st Century Journalism Project

Beaten Battered and Broke

In Defining The Problem on March 1, 2012 at 1:22 am

By KELSEY HARTLESS

Mitt Romney recently made headlines when he declared in an interview that he was not worried about the poor because, “they have a safety net.” Romney later claimed that his words were taken out of context.

Karen Fry, a former victim of domestic violence, classifies herself as working poor.

“I just want to get the word out to anyone who will listen about domestic violence and the serious affects it can have on a family- and that includes financially.”

Fry says that without the help of SafeNet and the Erie Coalition Against Family Violence, her transition back into the workforce would not have been possible.

National Unemployment Rate 2008-2012

Chart via National Conference of State Legislatures

Not everyone has been able to transition as easily as Fry. The economy continues to roll up and down in 2012. Coming off the lowest unemployment rate of 8.3 percent just three years ago, there have  been 250,000 new jobs created nationwide in January 2012, including 30,000 jobs in healthcare, 25,000 jobs in retail, and 44,000 jobs in hospitality. Since December 2009, the number of unemployed has been on the decline.

Despite the employment outlook, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that a record number of families across the U.S. continue to struggle with poverty. 46.2 million Americans live below the poverty line.

Many people have their own ideas of why the unemployment rate has been on the decline, nationwide. Locally, the Erie County jobless rate remained steady throughout December 2011 at 7.8 percent. A comparison of the Erie County unemployment rate between the December 2010 and December 2011 shows a 1.1 percent improvement.

The working poor continue to be another major issue, not just in Erie County but throughout the U.S. These are individuals who have jobs and still continue to live near or below the poverty line. In Erie, PA for example, over 40,700 people who have jobs are still living in poverty. The overwhelming percentage of people living in poverty have a job, or two, or had a job and are currently laid off, struggling from month to month to make ends meet.

As with any election year, lessening the unemployment gap by creating more jobs continues to be a hot button issue. However, even the creation of jobs isn’t enough to end the poverty gap.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in six Americans are considered ‘poverty level’. That’s just over 46 million people, the highest level since the government began tracking poverty 52 years ago.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the working poor as those who spend an average of 27 hours a week at work or looking for work, but nonetheless make an income that puts them below the poverty line; $11,000 for a single person and $21,954 for a family of four.

Although many are quick to brush off the working poor as a product of the recession, there are many other factors that lead to poverty.

Karen Fry found herself in an abusive relationship that left her with nothing- no job, no home and a less-than-promising future for her and her son.

Fry is not alone- between 600,000 to 6 million men and women are victims of domestic violence every year. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, women of all races are equally susceptible to violence via an intimate partner, regardless of income.

People with annual incomes of below $25,000 however are at a 3-times higher risk of intimate partner violence than people with higher incomes. The Resource Center lists this statistic, followed by a note that those with less money and less resources are more likely to report incidents of violence.

Karen Fry praises SafeNet, a domestic violence safety network, that she credits helping her in time of need. SafeNet is an organization committed to ending domestic violence by providing direct services to victims, including education, support, sanctuary, and advocacy.

In Erie County, SafeNet helps over 500 adults and children seek shelter each year, also providing, among other things, legal advocacy, trained hotline workers, counseling hours, and professional training.

Fry says it’s this professional training that helped her get back on her feet and into the workforce where she currently works three jobs to provide for herself and her son. She stresses that without the help of SafeNet and the Professional Development Program, she would have never made it back on to her feet and into the workforce.

“When people think of domestic violence, they don’t automatically think of what damage it can cause financially. It’s a problem. And I’m still paying for it. But I’m working a lot. It’s getting better.”

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