Who Makes Up the ‘Working Poor’ in America?

News Source: The Wallstreet Journal

Roughly 46 million people in the U.S., or 15% of the population, lived below the official poverty line in 2011 ($11,484 for an individual or $23,021 for a family of four per year). About 10.4 million of them are considered part of the “working poor.” That means they spent at least half the year in the labor force (working or looking for work), but they still fell below the poverty level.

Who falls into the group? The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks it down in a new report. Five facts:

Part-time work is only half the problem. About 4.4 million people who usually worked in full-time jobs were classified as working poor in 2011. That’s about 4% of all full-time workers. About 14% of part-time workers were classified as working poor.

It’s a lot of hard jobs. The service sector accounted for 3.3 million of the working poor in 2011. About 13% of all service workers were classified as working poor. About 17% of workers in farming, fishing and forestry jobs were part of the working poor. And about 10.6% of workers in construction and extraction roles were working poor.

Job loss is a leading problem, but not the only one. The working poor made up about 7% of the nation’s labor force in 2011, up from 5.1% in 2007. (The U.S. recession started in December 2007.) About 39% of the working poor in 2011 experienced unemployment during the year. About 6% of the working poor faced three major problems at some point in 2011: low earnings, unemployment and involuntary part-time employment.

Kids, stay in school. One in five people (20.1%) with less than a high school diploma who were in the labor force for half the year were classified as working poor in 2011. For high school graduates with no college, it was 9.2%. For workers with an associate’s degree, 4.6%. And those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 2.4%

Kids, stay at home. Among teens who were in the labor force for at least half of 2011 and who lived alone or with people unrelated to them, 40.3% lived below the poverty line. About 14% percent of 20- to 24-year-olds who were in the labor force for half the year were in poverty in 2011, double the rate for workers age 35 to 44.

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