INDIANAPOLIS | The tough times of the past five years aren't getting any easier for Hoosiers living paycheck to paycheck.
A report issued Monday by the Indiana Institute for Working Families found nearly half of Indiana children and altogether 2.24 million Hoosiers are officially "low income" -- earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $22,980 for an individual or $47,100 for a family of four.
Much of the increase has come among the truly poor, those living below the federal poverty level. Indiana's poverty rate increased 58.7 percent between 2000 and 2011, the fifth-highest increase during that period among the 50 states.
"Children raised in poverty face tremendous challenges to their long-term economic and social well-being, manifest in adulthood with decreased lifetime earnings, worse educational outcomes and higher incarceration rates," said Derek Thomas, author of the report. "Consequently, the rapid growth in child poverty ... is a concern not only for those immediately affected – Hoosier children under 18 years of age – but (also) for the entire state."
The report also found Hoosier adults with jobs are working harder for less money, as the state's median family income dropped to $57,148 in 2011 from $78,599 in 2000. That is the third largest decrease in the nation.
Meanwhile adults looking for work were less likely to find jobs that could support their families, with nearly 70 percent of new jobs paying full-time wages that don't advance workers out of the low-income category.
"When wages are kept so low, public dollars have to be spent to protect workers that do not earn enough to get by," Thomas said. "State and federal programs that protect the needy are vital protections against poverty, but they should not act as a subsidy to low-road employers who pay rock-bottom wages."
To reverse these trends, the report recommends state lawmakers expand access to social welfare programs, including Medicaid and food stamps, boost the minimum wage, provide more support to part-time college students and target tax credits to aid the poor.
"In order to better prepare Indiana’s working families for a more secure economic future, state policies and investments that reflect the economic reality of low- and middle-income Hoosiers are more critical than ever," Thomas said.