Working and Poor in the USA

Published on Dissident Voice, by Bill Quigley, January 20, 2012.

Millions of people in the US work and are still poor. Here are eight points that show why the US needs to dedicate itself to making work pay.

One. How many people work and are still poor?  

In 2011, the US Department of Labor reported at least 10 million people worked and were still below the unrealistic official US poverty line, an increase of 1.5 million more than the last time they checked. The US poverty line is $18,530 for a mom and two kids. Since 2007 the numbers of working poor have been increasing. About 7 percent of all workers and 4 percent of all full-time workers earn wages that leave them below the poverty line.

Two. What kinds of jobs do the working poor have?

One third of the working poor, over 3 million people, work in the service industry. Workers in other occupations are also poor: 16 percent of those in farming; 11 percent in construction; and 11 percent in sales.

Three. Which workers are most likely to be working and still poor? … //

… Eight. What about jobs for the unemployed and underemployed?

The US Labor Department estimated recently that 13 million people were unemployed. Another 8 million people were working part-time but wanted full-time work. Even more millions who are not working are not counted in those numbers because they have been unemployed so long.

A study by Northeastern University found that in the poorest families, unemployment is nearly 31 percent. Underemployment is also much more of a problem in poor homes, with over 20 percent of those workers reporting they are working part-time but seeking full-time work.

Our nation can do so much more. We say our country values work. It is time to do something about it.

If the US truly values work, we need to support the millions of our sisters and brothers who are low wage workers. Steps needed include: raising the minimum wage to a living wage; protecting workers from getting ripped off; making it easier for workers to organize together if they choose to; and creating jobs, public jobs if necessary, so that everyone who wants to work can do so. Many are already working on these justice issues.

For those interested in learning more about this, see the websites of Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Employment Law Project NELP, and the National Jobs for All Coalition.
(full text).

(Bill Quigley is a professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans and Associate Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. He can be reached here. Read other articles by Bill).

Comments are closed.