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Coming Up Short: A Comparison of Wages and Work Supports in 10 American Communities

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Policymakers and the public at large are increasingly asking why so many American families come up short as they struggle to make ends meet. With the economy in flux and jobs disappearing overseas at a rapid rate, more questions are being raised about what strategies can help families be economically secure and stable. Achieving economic self-sufficiency is a goal woven into several key pieces of federal legislation designed to assist low-income workers. In fact, legislation on welfare reform, job training, and vocational education all refer to self-sufficiency as a goal. An important first step in crafting effective and responsive public policy is having a clear and precise understanding of what "self-sufficiency" truly means for working families across the United States today. This year, Congress has begun the process of reauthorizing these key federal laws, states are dealing with budget shortfalls and tough choices to balance their budgets, and candidates at every level of government are outlining proposals to address the needs of working families. In this context of economic uncertainty and dwindling government resources, it is more important than ever that we identify and support policies that work for low income families. To make the best policy choices, we need to know the answers to some key questions. How are low-wage workers faring today, across the country? What is the impact of federal and state policy choices on low-income working families? What public policy choices are available which, if enacted, would help low wage workers achieve self-sufficiency?