In what will be the first in a series of shows on people who make far less than Ted Koppel, Nightline Thursday will look at the working poor. From their daily email:
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TONIGHT’S FOCUS: When we say “poor” or “poverty-stricken Americans” what image comes to your head? The homeless man sleeping on the grate? The out-of-work jobseeker standing in line at the unemployment or welfare office? What about someone who has a full-time job making $9 an hour? That sounds sounds like a decent wage, right? Well, that actually comes out to just above $18,000 a year, and for a family with one adult and three children, that means poverty. Today — which marks the hardest deadline of the year for most Americans: the day we pay taxes to the IRS — we’ve decided to launch a new, occasional series that looks at the working poor: the millions of Americans who live on the edge of poverty.
The genesis of tonight’s show was a new book by former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner, David Shipler. “The Working Poor” takes a comprehensive look at the lives of people set to plunge into the abyss of financial ruin if even one payment isn’t met, if their car breaks down, or if they call in sick to work. Such seemingly minor events can have catastrophic effects on this part of the population, and Mr. Shipler has documented many of their lives, weaving economic analysis into the story of what these people face trying to survive from day to day. Ted Koppel sat down with Mr. Shipler for an extensive interview on his findings. A Nightline team profiled three lives of the working poor.
Part One tells the story of Chris Merchant, who makes $8.50 an hour at an herb-packing plant. His fiancé Eryn makes about $99 a week as a baby-sitter, when she’s not taking care of their own two boys, aged one and three. The pair’s combined houshold income amounts to $18,000 a year — below the federal poverty line. Even with housing assistance, Medicaid for the kids, and occasional help from a social services agency, the Merchants live with the fear of becoming destitute. They talk about a sense of powerlessness over their own lives. Money is important to most people, but for the working poor, Shipler says, it’s “tragically important” — see, for example, what happens when Chris needs a new starter for his car.
In Part Two, meet Susan Curry, who works a series of full- and part-time jobs all year, while trying to juggle her four children, ages 11-19, and maintain her house on $20,000 a year. Tax time for people in her income bracket comes early, in January or February, when they qualify for a tax credit because of their low-income status. So when H & R Block started running announcements saying people could come collect their refund and have it processed within two days, she went right away. But the devil is in the fine print: the refund is, in fact, a loan, with an interest rate between 75 and 400 percent. Although those details are laid out on paper, many working poor often miss reading them. Susan feels targeted because of her precarious financial situation and her desperate need for cash.
Our third story profiles Lisa Engelkins, a single mother caught in another typical loan scheme: payday loans. This are considered “predatory lending:” money lent in two week terms by check cashing outfits who charge between 400 and 600 percent interest annually. Lisa Engelkins rolled over her $255 loan 35 times, and ended up paying $1200 in fees.
We hope you join us tonight as we launch this series, and return for more upcoming shows on the plight of the working poor.
Gerry Holmes and the Nightline Staff
ABCNEWS Washington D.C.