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Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century

futurework - Chapter 2, Box 2.4 Who are the Working Poor?

More than nine million working Americans were living in poverty in 1997, and one-quarter of those worked full time, year round. For those in poverty it is a struggle just having a roof overhead and food on the table. A family of three living in poverty did not even make $13,000 in 1997.

The working poor are disproportionately—nearly 60 percent—women. And minority women are more than twice as likely to be poor as white women. Workers in families with children, especially young children, are more likely to be living in poverty. Almost three million poor workers were in families with children under six years of age. In 1995, ten percent of full-time workers with significant disabilities were poor—and they were more than three times as likely to fall below the poverty line as people without disabilities.

Many of the working poor are teachers’ aides and childcare providers. They are home health aides, caring for the sick, elderly, and severely disabled. They serve coffee at lunch counters and clean office buildings in communities across the country. They also work in security at the nation’s airports, screening passenger luggage and operating metal detectors.

Nationwide, soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters are increasingly serving the working poor, not just the unemployed. In 1997, requests for emergency food aid increased in 86 percent of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. More than two-thirds of cities cited low-paying jobs as one of the main causes of hunger. Another study confirmed that three of five families seeking emergency food aid did so even though one or more family members was working.

While there are fewer working Americans living in poverty than just a few years ago, particularly given the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the increase in the minimum wage, success is still a long way off. No working family should have to live in poverty.

S O U R C E S : U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau; U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

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