Almost 40 percent of Prince George's County Public School students eat free or reduced-price lunches.

The county Department of Social Services administered food stamps to more than 16,000 families last year.

County shelters for homeless families are pushed beyond their limits.

More than 10 percent of working families have no health insurance.

With statistics such as these, Prince George's County should not be subsidizing or otherwise encouraging employers who pay wages below the poverty line. The county, its contractors, employers and citizens instead should work together to end poverty and help working families afford school lunches, decent meals, adequate housing and health care.

During the next few months, the county council will be discussing initiatives and legislation to help lift working families out of poverty. They may include:

An increase in the county's minimum wage.

An improved work-force readiness program with greater involvement by Prince George's Community College, the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. and local corporations.

Earned-income tax credits for low-wage workers with dependent children.

A "living-wage" proposal calling for businesses that choose to accept tax credits, subsidies or contracts from the county to pay employees enough so that they can feed their families, pay their bills and afford decent health care.

Government has a responsibility to help the working poor -- through tax incentives, job training and advancement, business development programs, etc. -- but businesses must do their part as well. In Baltimore, the first jurisdiction to introduce a "living-wage" ordinance, contractors have praised the system because it relieves pressure on employers to squeeze labor costs in order to win low-bid contracts.

Together, government and business can help working families achieve the quality of life they deserve by providing rewards for holding a job, opportunities for advancement and enough money for workers to provide the basic necessities to their families. Such a multifaceted approach will be a big step toward eliminating poverty among the working families of Prince George's County.

-- Peter Shapiro

a Democrat, represents Brentwood on the Prince George's County Council.