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What is the Working Poor?

By Misty Amber Brighton
Updated May 17, 2024
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The working poor are a class of people who live in poverty despite having steady employment. Many of these people work at low paying jobs, and often earn minimum wage. Their jobs typically offer little or no benefits. In addition, many families in this group may have high dependent expenses or health problems that require costly medication or treatment.

Many individuals in this class work full-time jobs, yet earn less than the poverty level for their region. This is often because these jobs are very low paying ones, often only the minimum wage employers are required to pay. In some instances, workers could even earn less than that amount if they are tipped employees or work on a commission basis.

People who are considered working poor may work more than one job. In these instances, they might work only part time at each position. Even though they may put in 40 hours or more, they are nonetheless considered part time workers who are generally ineligible for benefits.

The lack of benefits can be a contributing factor of people becoming working poor. This is because many individuals in this group do not have health insurance. As a result, they may be required to pay for expensive medications out of their pocket, leaving little money left over to cover other needs.

Single parents with young children can easily become members of the working poor. Childcare expenses can consume a large portion of a worker's salary, especially if they are very young. After paying daycare fees, workers are often unable to pay rent or utilities with their remaining wages.

Even though the working poor struggle to afford basic necessities, they typically do not receive government assistance. This is usually because they earn slightly more than would be allowed by these programs. These individuals often rely on help from religious groups and charitable organizations in order to provide food, clothing, or help with utility bills.

There are a number of factors that contribute to people becoming part of the working poor class. The trend toward service-oriented jobs that typically offer low pay and few benefits is a major contributor. A person's level of education and work experience also play a part in this. For this reason, many governments offer job training programs, résumé workshops, or financial assistance with college tuition in order to help individuals who are in this group become more competitive in the workplace.

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Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On Jul 21, 2014

@browncoat - The thing is, we live in society, so there's no escaping it whether or not you're poor. Expensive clothes might seem like a luxury but they might be a necessity in order to get or keep a job. A car might be as well. And sometimes groceries are more expensive for the working poor because they live in areas where there is no proper supermarket. So they either have to spend money to get to one, or spend money in more expensive convenient stores whenever they run out of milk.

That's on top of the fact that even the most thrifty of families struggles when the providers are working for minimum wage. It is simply not enough to sustain people.

And we all end up paying for it, because anyone who can't feed their children on their work week is going to end up costing taxpayers with benefits or health care or whatever else. It would make much more sense for them to get a decent wage in the first place.

By browncoat — On Jul 20, 2014

@pleonasm - To some extent I think that this is the fault of the expectations held by society rather than a problem with wage levels. People are taught that things like television and expensive clothes and cars and things are necessities rather than luxuries and then they wonder why they can't afford food on top of all of that.

By pleonasm — On Jul 20, 2014

It makes me so sad that this term even needs to exist. I have heard people talk about how they work so hard at more than one job and still can't afford basic necessities and that's just not right.

I know it's impossible to cater for every single person and that some people are never going to want to lift themselves out of poverty and are perfectly happy sitting around doing nothing and getting nowhere.

But if someone works hard they should be rewarded for that. If they work more than one job they should be able to afford luxuries. The fact that they cannot is one of the tragedies of our time.

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