The term working poor is used to describe individuals and families who have regular jobs but because of lower wages and excessive expenses keep them within poverty levels. In the United States there are more than 6 million people struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life. This adds up to approximately one in every four American families are considered low income. As the economic outlook in the US grows increasingly dim the working poor are the first to be affected. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, more than 240,000 jobs were canceled in October of this year, (US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2008).
“Millions of American breadwinners work hard to support their families. But, despite their determination and effort, many are mired in low-wage jobs that provide inadequate benefits and offer little opportunity for advancement and economic security, (The Working Poor Family Project, ¶ 1).”
Camden, New Jersey is notorious for being a poor and crime ridden city. In 2002, 2003 and 2004 Camden, NJ was named the most dangerous city in the country. Crime and poverty often go hand in hand. Approximately one out of every eight families in New Jersey is considered to be working poor, (Pierce, 2008, p. 17). Camden incorporates approximately 141,000 of the more than 2,417,000 households in the Garden State. A majority of which have limited educational backgrounds. “Consistent with other research householders with less education are more likely to have insufficient income. Thus half of those with insufficient incomes are lacking a high school degree or equivalent, (Pierce, p. 41).” But education alone does not determine aptitude toward insufficient income.
“Although advanced education directly correlates with lower income inadequacy for all race and gender groups three patterns, are apparent. First as education levels increase, income inadequacy rates decrease more dramatically for women then men, especially women of color, (Pierce, p. 41).” When it comes to men the inadequacy rate is actually less even with decreased education. However as education increases the salary gap between men and women also decrease. “Third, the disadvantages experienced by women and/or people of color are such that these groups need more education to achieve the same level of economic self-sufficiency as white males, (Pierce, p. 43).” More than 50 percent of the Camden population is Black or African American. Another 38 percent is Hispanic or Latino. Only 16 percent of the population in Camden is white and vast majorities are women. This means that demographically the people of Camden are composed of minority women, Blacks and Hispanic and Latino’s.
All of the research conducted on education and poverty levels does nothing to change the landscape of Camden, NJ. “During the 2005 Christmas holidays, there were four slayings in 48 hours, all too characteristic of a place with a murder rate more than seven times the national average, (Diaz, 2007, ¶ 2).” This ABC News article illustrates the effects of poverty and crime in much more vivid terms that percentages and numbers. “A typical morning in Camden, detractors say, could see 33 drug busts in less than three hours. Crack, heroin and marijuana are the currency of the streets, making up some estimates a $43 million industry, (Diaz, ¶ 3).”
Camden was settled along the Delaware River. Directly across the river is the city of Philadelphia, PA. In 1687, Camden began planning for its first ferry to take residents across the river to do their regular business transactions, (Cooper, 1909). For more than a century Camden was a transportation and economic hub for Philadelphia. By the eighteenth century the area surrounding the waters edge was being cleared to make way for the site that represents current day Camden, (Cooper).
“Occasionally a family would move across the river, but down to the time of the Revolution the population was mainly the descendants of those who were swept here on that swell of migration caused by religious persecution in England in the seventeenth century, (Cooper, 1909, p. 19).”
Camden was one of the first settled areas of America. Although Philadelphia is the first state Camden was populated at the same time. Although the makeup of Camden was much more rural with only two roadways and mostly homesteads. Camden was not incorporated until 1828. However, throughout the past two centuries Camden has been the home of many major corporate headquarters and factories. Campbell’s Soup, Lockheed Martin and RCA have all been part of the economy in Camden’s past. But today a majority of those facilities have closed their Camden operation, which only adds to the poor economy in the city. By 1969 the city was reporting major job losses. The Port of Camden is still a viable waterway port that handles bulk cargo. However, in 2005 the Port of Camden was involved in a currently unresolved criminal investigation. The port is still open.
Today the medium household income in Camden is $17,386, this is more than $30,000 less than the national average, (Cam Connect, 2008, ¶ 1). Approximately 32 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Considering that 89 percent of Camden’s labor force is currently employed indicates that a high percentage of Camden residents are what America considers to be working poor.
In conclusion, Camden, New Jersey was incorporated in the nineteenth century after more than a century of service as transportation and economic hub for the greater city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania located just across the Delaware River. The city was full of industry boasting 40,000 jobs at the height of its economy. However, by the middle of the twentieth century Camden had already begun to show symptoms of decline as many factories began to move their production procedures elsewhere. As the job market in Camden declined so did the medium household income, which is currently a fraction of the national standard. New Jersey legal studies have researched the economic situation within the state and they have linked education, race and gender as contributors to low working wages. And low working wages is the creating force of a poor working class.
The working poor is defined as any household that participates in the job market yet due to low wages and excessive expenses they are below the national standard of sustainability. Demographics in Camden indicate that the population is comprised of mostly women, Blacks, Hispanics and Latino, often the lowest educated Americans. As the economy suffers chances are so will the working poor. As poverty increases so does the crime rate.
Camden has been known to be a dangerous city in the past. For three consecutive years Camden was named the most dangerous city in the US. Although the city was no longer number one after their three year reign Camden has been in the top ten for more than a decade. Although there are still some major employers in the region, the Camden Port, even it has been associated with crime.
Cam Connect. (2008). Camden Facts 2008 [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from www.camconnect.org
Cooper, H. M. (1909). Historical Sketch of Camden, N.J.. Michigan: Horace B. Ketler.
Diaz, J. (2007). Waiting on the World to Change. Retrieved Dec. 18,2008, from www.abcnews.go.com
Pierce, D. M. (2008, June 2008). Not Enough to Live On: Characteristics of Households Below Poverty. Retrieved from Legal Services of New Jersey: www.lsnj.com
The Working Poor Family Project (). Strengthening State Policies for Working Families. Retrieved from Working Poor Family Project: www.workingpoorfamilies.org
US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2008, Dec. 5, 2008). The Employment Situation: November 2008 [Press release]. Retrieved from www.bls.gov