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Gender Analysis

From Welfare to Low-Wage Work

“Ten years into welfare reform, caseloads may have decreased, but the number of people living in poverty has not,” Robert Wharton, the president and chief executive officer of the Community Economic Development Administration, wrote in a recent piece in the Chicago Sun-Times. “At the same time, the safety net of services and support that once protected the poor lies in tatters. Today, working parents in ill-paid jobs often work themselves right out of eligibility for desperately needed assistance.”

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In the village of San Ignacio, Mexico, Felicitas Villalobos weaves baskets. For Felicitas and many of the Tarahumara Indians living in a poverty-stricken region, creating baskets is one of the only ways to earn an income.  At 28, she is a mother of two small children and the sole wage earner for her family.  Her baskets can sell for nearly $100 a week on the export market where she can earn up to three times as much as a factory worker.  Still, because of taxes imposed on exports since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), her earnings do not meet Mexico’s official living wage of $445 per month, which includes the average cost of food, clothing and housing for a family of four.  However, if the taxes were removed, Felicitas's earnings would increase by $66 per month, bringing her income to just above the living wage and providing a more stable life for her family.

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