LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The federal poverty line is $22,000 a year for a family of four. More than one in five Arkansans live on incomes below that with a full-time minimum wage job.
"The most industrialized nation in the world, how do you have a segment of the population living in poverty that work?" asks Terrance L. Thomas, Program Coordinator for the Social Justice Initiative at Philander Smith College in Little Rock.
His question is what four panelists at Philander Smith College came together to answer Wednesday night. He says students are more affected by the working poor issue than they think.
"Many of our students fit into that category although they really don't realize it. They work these thousands of dollars at these jobs and still can't pay tuition or after college, they struggle," says Thomas.
Students and community members came to the school's screening of the film "Waging a Living". It depicts the lives of four Americans, each working minimum wage job but still unable to pay the bills.
When you do the math, it isn't difficult to figure out why. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Working 40 hours a week, that equates to roughly fifteen thousand eighty dollars a year.
"If you think about a $100 a week in groceries, that's $5,200 gone right there. If you have $300 or $400 dollars rent which is again, very low, that's another $3,600 or $4,000," says Stephen Copley.
Copley has spent his career working to raise Arkansas' minimum wage. Successful in 2006, Copley says it still isn't enough.
"It's been six years since it's been increased. Previous to that, it was ten years so it's time, first of all to see another increase," says Copley.
Thomas says it is important for Philander students to see what they are facing after college, that the American Dream may not be as easy as it seems.
"You get your degree. Your 4.0, 3.0 and walk in to a Fortune 500 Company or some great agency and that may not be the reality," says Thomas.
Thomas says Wednesday's discussion is timely with it being the 44th anniversary of the assassination Martin Luther King, Jr. He says it is important to remember King was killed during an economic protest and the Memphis strike, fighting for a better living wage for all Americans.
According to Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas has the fifth highest child poverty rate in the country at roughly 27.2 percent.The state's overall poverty is at approximately 18.8 percent. Since 2006, the number of Americans living below the poverty line has surged 27 percent.