Who are the working poor?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

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The majority of the people who live below the poverty level do not work. 

In 2012, 46.5 million people were poor.  According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.6 million or 23% of the poor were “working poor.”  The working poor are defined as people who spend 27 weeks or more in a year “in the labor force” either working or looking for work but whose incomes fall below the poverty level. 

In 2012, the working poor* were

  • 7% of the total work force
  • 14% of Blacks; 14% of Hispanics; 6% of Whites; 5% of  Asians
  • 8% of women; 6% of men
  • 21% of the labor force with less than a high school diploma; 9% of high school graduates with no college education;  5% for those with an associate’s degree and 2% for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Most likely young: rates were highest for 16 to 19 year olds(13%) and 20 to 24 year olds (14%) and lowest for those over 65 (2%)
  • 16% of part-time workers; 4% for those employed full-time

In 2012, 4.4 million people who usually work full-time were working poor. Of these, 84% experienced at least one labor market problem (unemployment, involuntary part-time employment or low wages (defined as less than $337.92 per week). Low earnings was the most common problem with 68% experiencing low earnings either alone or in combination with other labor market issues; 37% experienced  unemployment either alone or in conjunction with other problems; and 12% experienced involuntary part-time work either alone or in combination. 

* Defined as a percent of people in the work force 27 weeks or more

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A Profile of the Working Poor, 2012, BLS Report 1047. U.S. Government Printing Office, 2013 (PDF) Accessed 7/7/2014 


What are poverty rates among working adults?
Official data by work experience

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The Census Bureau reports poverty rates by work experience for people ages 18 to 64.  In 2013, the overall poverty rate for people ages 18 to 64 was 14%. 


What are the characteristics of minimum wage workers?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

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In 2013, 75.9 million workers (or 59% of all wage and salary workers) in the United States age 16 and over were paid hourly wages. Among those 1.5 million workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Another 1.8 million had wages below the federal minimum.  Together these workers make up 4% of all hourly paid workers.