Hard Times for the Hard at Work: A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Hard Times for the Hard at Work: A WGEM News In-Depth Report

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Renice Cobb Mallory and her grandson say their prayers before lunch at Horizons. Renice Cobb Mallory and her grandson say their prayers before lunch at Horizons.
Renice Cobb Mallory performs her morning duties as a breakfast cook. Renice Cobb Mallory performs her morning duties as a breakfast cook.
Volunteers at Horizons prepare lunch. Volunteers at Horizons prepare lunch.
A Horizons volunteer serves lunch at the soup kitchen.j A Horizons volunteer serves lunch at the soup kitchen.j
Dr. Mitch Ellison says people in the working poor must search for jobs in growing fields like welding. Dr. Mitch Ellison says people in the working poor must search for jobs in growing fields like welding.
QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) -

They work hard, pay their bills, raise their families, but still can't manage to get ahead financially.

According to the Working Poor Families Project, nearly one in three families in the United States struggles to provide for basic needs. One local service organization says these are the people that fill its food pantry and soup kitchen.

Renice Cobb-Mallory loves her job as a breakfast cook at a Quincy hotel. She works 20 hours a week there. But she juggles a lot of roles.

She's raising her four-year-old grandson, K'vion, and takes care of her husband, Brian, who used to be the family's breadwinner until he got hurt about 18 months ago and could no longer work his good-paying construction job.

Once a middle-class family, the Mallorys now rely on the Horizons soup kitchen for hot meals several times a week.

"You get out there and you're busting your butt and you're working very hard, and then at the end of the day it's still not enough to go around," Mallory said.

And Renice's situation is far from unusual.

"In our food pantry for the clients there, 50 percent of the people report to having at least one person in their household that is working," Sarah Stephens, of Horizons, said.

Stephens says Horizons sees hundreds of people every year, both in the soup kitchen and in the food pantry. But she says oftentimes it sees them sporadically, because many of these people are committed to supporting themselves when they can.

"80 percent of the people visit one to five times per month, so they visit when they need it," Stephens said. "We have people that we serve that have college degrees and through bad circumstances found themselves on the street."

Mitch Ellison is an accounting and finance professor at Quincy University. He says people like Renice are members of the working poor - a socioeconomic class that's over 10 million strong nationwide. They're people who work in low-paying jobs, often full-time , but can only manage to pay their bills and save nothing.

"And you basically have to up your wages or you have to reduce your expenses," Ellison said. "And the problem with the working poor is really, there's not a lot of room to give on the expenses."

Ellison says there just aren't as many head-of-household jobs anymore. Quincy Compressor's decision to shut down local operations is just the latest example of good jobs leaving the Tri-States.

"As the industrial jobs moved overseas, they were replaced with service-type jobs in hotels and in retail, and those jobs historically do not pay as well," Ellison said.

Ellison says he doesn't see industrial jobs coming back, so workers need to focus on other job areas that are growing.

"If you want to get out of the working poor and you want to get into the better paying jobs you have to go where the help-wanted ads are not being filled," Ellison said.

But Ellison says to get those types of jobs - which include growing fields like welding and nursing - additional education or job training will be required.

"I try to be positive because I have so many people depending on me," Mallory said.

But for people like Renice, who are breadwinners and caregivers, going back to school is not easy. So she plans to bank as many hours as she can and put her pride aside in accepting assistance.

Ellison also some college graduates eventually end up as members of the working poor because they select majors that do not lead to viable job options.

"It has to be something that's in demand, not necessarily something that is enjoyable or a hobby," Ellison said.  "So a lot of your underemployment are college students that are graduating without the appropriate degree."

Ellison says often times colleges will create degrees that catch the interest of students, but it's up to the student to be wise enough to pick something that has the potential for employment after graduation.


Ellison says the United States government has created tax incentives for the working poor, including a saver's IRA, called My RA. He says it can be a tremendous benefit to working-poor families.

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