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Below the line: Poverty in America

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Peter Edelman, a former Clinton administration official and now director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., agrees: "There are literally millions of people … out there working … not getting out of poverty."

He says the numbers show that there are "people who are in low-wage jobs and get some income supplement. Nobody wants to really admit that's going on."

In fact, most of the new jobs seen since the economic crisis – and most of what will come in the next decade – are low-wage, according to the National Employment Law Project. More than 40 percent of the jobs added to the economy between 2008 and 2010 – the first two years of the recession – were low-wage jobs, the project reported in August. Six of the 10 jobs projected to see the most growth by 2020 are also low-wage jobs.

The long view of wages is even bleaker. Since 1979, the American economy "has lost about one-third of its capacity to generate good jobs," according to a recent paper published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. A good job, in this case, pays about $37,000 a year and offers health insurance and retirement benefits – two things most low-wage jobs lack.

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