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Working poor

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Working poor is a term used to describe individuals and families who maintain regular employment but remain in relative poverty due to low levels of pay and dependent expenses. The working poor are often distinguished from paupers, poor who are supported by government aid or charity.


There are various issues to consider when studying the extent, cause and definition of "working poor" and "working poor" conditions. One such issue is the definition of poverty. Given on a global scale, the definition and requisites to be considered impoverished or in poverty may sharply contrast the conditions of any one specific country. When viewed at a high level, the global definitions of poverty are typically much lower than that of more prosperous countries. In areas such as the United States, England, France and other more prosperous nations, the poverty line is much higher than that of countries with typically lower or even negative economic conditions. When considering localized differences, such as in the United States, differences in market rates of goods and services may impact the effects of poverty.

Yet another consideration to be made with a global view is data collection and reporting methods. With no globally accepted standards on data recording and reporting, variances may be obscured, omit or inflate specific factors considered in determining poverty levels or measures of the working poor.

Definitions for the USA and Canada

In the USA and Canada a person is a working poor depending on her revenues compared to an absolute poverty level. Officially, in the United States, the working poor are defined as individuals who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force (working or looking for work), but whose incomes fell below the official poverty level. Often, those defined as "working poor" have negative net worth and lack the ability to escape personal and economic contingencies.

Definition in Europe

In the European Union a person is a working poor depending on her revenues compared to a relative poverty level. Eurostat defines this level at 60 percent of the median income. The minimum wage can also be used as the threshold.

Possible problems faced by the working poor

Workers without marketable skills may face low wages, potential economic exploitation, unpleasant working conditions, and few opportunities to attain skills that would allow them to escape their personal and economic situations. Unexpected costs (such as medical or repair costs) can substantially decrease the economic ability of the working poor to manage their lives.

In some cases, members of the working poor work at multiple part-time jobs, which require nearly full-time commitment but are classified as "part time". In this situation some benefits, like medical insurance, are not paid by employers . This situation is sometimes referred to as precarious employment. These workers are more often than not without adequate (or in many cases any) health insurance.

A common expression of working poor conditions states that such individuals often live from "paycheck to paycheck".

Policy responses

Many governments have initiated programs with the proclaimed intention of assisting those who may be considered impoverished or working poor. Much debate is centered upon the efficacy of such programs.

In the United States, fiscal conservatives tend to argue in favour of the approaches recommended by Trickle-down economics, in which stimulation of the investment sector is assumed to lead to increased job opportunities and a better economy. Examples of conservative measures include lowering taxes and reducing governmental regulation of business and trade. Fiscal progressives tend toward a more direct approach, usually with increased taxes and regulation. The government funds social welfare programs like food stamps and vouchers, subsidized housing, meal plans, and healthcare, and regulating wages, or by helping the working poor become more competitive in the labor market, through such measures as job training programs, low-interest student loans, and small business loans.

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