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

In 2013, 45.3 million people were poor. The majority of the people who live below the poverty level do not work. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.5 million or 23 percent of the poor were “working poor.” 

The working poor are 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 2013, 4.4 million people who usually work full-time were working poor. Of these, 85 percent experienced at least one labor market problem (unemployment, involuntary part-time employment or low wages (defined as less than $342.87 per week).

In 2013, the working poor were

  • 7% of the total work force
  • 13% of Blacks; 13% of Hispanics; 6% of Whites; 5% of  Asians
  • 8% of women; 6% of men
  • 19% 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 (11%) and 20 to 24 year olds (13%) and lowest for those over 65 (2%)
  • 16% of part-time workers; 4% for those employed full-time

Low earnings was the most common problem with 66 percent experiencing low earnings either alone or in combination with other labor market issues; 38 percent experienced  unemployment either alone or in conjunction with other problems; and 14 percent experienced involuntary part-time work either alone or in combination. 


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A Profile of the Working Poor, 2013, BLS Report 1055. U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015 (PDF) Accessed 11/2/2015