What Is the Working Poor?

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  • Written By: Misty Amber Brighton
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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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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