Working poor

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Animal & Human Rights

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. Often, those defined as "working poor" have negative net worth and lack the ability to escape personal and economic contingencies. In some situations there are people who choose to reject material benefits or prefer a lifestyle that does not require income at or above the poverty line. From a research perspective, individuals that reject or do not require income levels from personal choice may or may not be included in such studies.

The working poor are often distinguished from paupers, poor who are supported by government aid or charity.

The extent and causes of "working poor" conditions

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.

The causes of working poor conditions are debated issues. Many cited causes and solutions are based around economic, social and political differences. Please refer to the Wikipedia article on poverty for cited causes of poverty.

With the causes and extent of working poor conditions varying to some degree, much of the debate, criticism and discussion is taken at the national, or smaller geographic, level.

The "working poor" In the United States

The nature and extent of the working poor in the United States is a contested subject; while both sides of the political spectrum acknowledge that there are non-negligible numbers of working people living near or below the poverty line, there is disagreement as to whether or not this reflects a genuine flaw with current economic policy, and what the response should be.

In the United States, according to the government Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 6.4 million working poor in 2000 ; by 2003 the number had grown to 7.4 million . In 2004, Business Week suggested that a more accurate figure would be 28 million, counting those at least eighteen, employed, and making less than $9.04 an hour, a full-time salary of $18,800 per year and the federal poverty line for a family of four.

The question of the working poor, how many there are and the reasons for their situation, remains controversial. For example, the Business Week magazine article cited above, which was generally critical of the political response to the problem of the working poor, itself received criticism from columnist Thomas Sowell, who claimed that the magazine had, among other sins, inflated statistics.

Sowell claimed that "census data show that most people who are working are not poor and most people who are poor are not working", and that workers who were part-time or under the age of 25 should not be counted as working poor . Citing the author Horatio Alger, Sowell suggested that the intelligentsia had dismissed words such as moxie and gumption, and that the working poor themselves, and not larger socioeconomic factors such as the lack of labor unions and the changing nature of employment, as suggested by Business Week, were to blame for the situation.

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. 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.

A common expression of working poor conditions states that individuals often live from "paycheck to paycheck". Unexpected costs (such as medical or repair costs) can further decrease economic ability.

Policy responses

Many governments have initiated programs intended to assist those who may be considered impoverished or working poor.

Measures that have been taken by governments:

  • Lowering taxes
  • Ending governmental regulation of business and trade
  • Job training programs
  • Educational scholarships and grants
  • Small business loans
  • Food stamps or vouchers
  • Subsidized housing
  • Subsidized meal planning for mothers and children
  • Subsidized healthcare coverage
  • Living wage

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