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Survey: 36% of U.S. Financially Desperate or Barely Getting By

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Some 36 percent of all U.S. residents are either financially desperate – meaning they don’t earn enough to pay basic bills – or barely getting by, a new international survey says.

The study by the International Trades Union Congress, the world’s top global union federation, adds that 7 percent of U.S. respondents are financially desperate, but the proportion is higher among women, people aged 16-24 and those with less education.

Nine nations were included in the survey that together combined for 45 percent of world population and more than half of its output. But one of every nine people in them (11 percent) can’t pay for the basics – housing, food and electricity -- and another third (34 percent) earn just enough to do so, ITUC reported. “This represents a social and economic disaster,” stated ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

The survey did not delve into why respondents feel they can’t get by, but Burrow laid the blame on “corporate greed that captured the wealth of workers’ contribution through a model of global trade that relies on low wages, insecure and unsafe work that is destroying the lives of working families and ironically undermining global corporations -- which are facing shrinking markets.” ITUC released its survey in advance of a global economic summit next month.

U.S. workers and their allies cite several causes for financial desperation. They include:

  • Corporate export of high-paying U.S. jobs to low-paying nations overseas – aided and abetted by so-called “free trade” pacts
  • Deliberate legislation to increase income inequality, such as tax cuts skewed to the rich and cuts in programs designed to benefit the middle class and the poor.
  • The decline of worker power and the right to organize.

Another reason is the rise of the service economy, particularly both in part-time work and in its lowest-paying sectors such as health care, temps, and at bars and restaurants. 

In the U.S., the West has the highest share of truly desperate people (10 percent), while the Northeast (6 percent) has the lowest. In three of the four U.S. regions, 61 percent of respondents said they had enough not just to pay for essentials, but to save a little as well. The South lagged in that, at 57 percent. The South led in people who could pay for essentials, but nothing else (31 percent). The Northeast, Midwest and West each were at 27 or 28 percent. 

  • Press Associates, Inc., contributed to this report.

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