FOX13 Gets Real: The high price of low wages

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 gets real about the high price of low wages.

A recently released report says low-income people are being punished for not having a lot of money.

Paying the bills can make it seem like you just can’t get ahead and, depending on your income bracket, it can be more than just a feeling.

Michelle Cobb grew up in Orange Mound and told FOX13 it was always a struggle to get ahead, especially when she became a head of household.

“When you raise three kids, especially when you’re a single mother, you look for every available deal you can get,” said Cobb.

Finding deals in low-income neighborhoods can be difficult especially for essentials.

Elana Delavega is a professor at the University of Memphis School of Social Work and an expert on poverty in Memphis.

“Most of the people in poverty are working full time,” Delavega said.

She told FOX13 lower-income households struggle so much because so much of their income has to pay for necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.

In Memphis shelter is usually an expensive rent payment because banks won’t make loans on inexpensive houses.

“If people could get a $30,000 loan at the same type of condition that they could get a $300,000 loan there would be no need to pay $800 rents because they could pay $170 for owning their home,” Delavega said.

Delavega says official government numbers on poverty don’t tell the full story.

She says rising prices and stagnant incomes make being poor really expensive.

Her solution is more of what we’ve seen since during the coronavirus pandemic - more government involvement.

“They need to be treated exactly like we treat wealthier people and given the same opportunities and given the same market power. And we need to do that through regulation,” said Delavega.

Some people might whether that isn’t socialism.

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“I am actually not talking about socialism,” said Delavega. “And we get very confused and I actually appreciate that question very very much.”

She said she’s not talking about socialism because she would only control prices on necessities to help give struggling families a fighting chance.

FOX13 told Delavega that what she said sounds like she thinks the system is kind of rigged against the poor.

“Not kind of,” she said. “It is absolutely and completely rigged against the poor, yeah.”

Rigged or not, Michelle Cobb told FOX13 she’s not giving up.

“I want to find a better job,” she said. "I also want to keep this job that I’m at, but I want to go back to school. I am going back to school, and I am going to finish.

Cobb said she wants to go to the University of Memphis for business.

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She said she hopes to soon join these future graduates at the University of Memphis and continue to work toward the pursuit of an American Dream that doesn’t seem so expensive.

According to the U.S Labor Department, the Consumer Price Index had been climbing steadily since 2018, leveled off with the COVID-19 pandemic, and is ticking back up now.

That is not a good sign for people who were already struggling and are now dealing with the fallout from the pandemic.