Study Reveals Most of America's Poor Have Jobs

A majority of poor Americans have jobs.  The majority of the United
States' poor aren't sitting on street corners. They're  employed at
low-paying jobs, struggling to support themselves and a family. 
While this is a hot political issue, understanding the lifestyle of these people is important to any writer.  It impacts the journalist, the author and the screenwriter equally.  Any story that involves these Americans needs to reflect the reality that these people do work, often quite hard, and that their families suffer because of the poverty and lack of opportunity they endure.  They often live in sub-standard housing eating diets that are high-fat and starchy - because that's what they can afford even with the help of food banks and Food Stamps.

This is not a cry for pity.  It's a cry for understanding.  This is a reality of life in the U.S. which should be accurately portrayed in your work.  Think Grapes of Wrath or the young men working in low paying jobs in the movie Good Will Hunting.

Here's the story, and as always with a link to full study in the attribution line.
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Most of America's poor have jobs.
Between 6.4 million and 8 million heads of families classify as working poor.

Sociologists evaluated 129 existing methods for defining the 'working poor' and propose one method as a unified definition. Their estimate is that 10 percent of all working households are poor.

That's lower than some federal estimates, but it also means that a majority of poor Americans have jobs.  The majority of the United States' poor aren't sitting on street corners. They're employed at low-paying jobs, struggling to support themselves and a family.

In the past, differing definitions of employment and poverty prevented researchers from agreeing on who and how many constitute the "working poor."

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But a new study by sociologists at BYU, Cornell and LSU provides a rigorous new estimate. Their work suggests about 10 percent of working households are poor. Additionally, households led by women, minorities or individuals with low education are more likely to be poor, but employed.

Science magazine says the data from this study is relevant to the upcoming presidential election, as candidates discuss ways to help the working poor move out of poverty. Understanding the size and characteristics of the group makes this goal more realistic.

BYU professor Scott Sanders says the findings dispel the notion that most impoverished Americans don't work so they can rely on government handouts.

"The toxic idea is if we clump all those people together and treat them as the same people, then we don't solve the real problem that the majority of people in poverty are working, trying to improve their lives, and we treat them all as deadbeats," according to Professor Sanders.

Working poor is the term used to describe individuals or families who hold jobs, but can't break out of poverty. No standards currently exist for determining exactly who qualifies as working poor, so previous estimates vary widely in their results. This study compared 126 different measures of working poverty using 2013 population data. The authors found the most useful representation is determined when a head of household works at least half time and the household income is below 125 percent of the official poverty line.
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Poorest of the poor miss out on benefits, have more hardship
Although the federal government's 1996 reform of welfare brought some improvements for the nation's poor, it also may have made extremely poor Americans worse off, new research shows. Welfare has become more difficult to obtain for families at the very bottom, who often have multiple barriers to work. As a result the deeply poor are doing worse.  
Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Chicago.  H. Luke Shaefer, Marci Ybarra. The welfare reforms of the 1990s and the stratification of material well-being among low-income households with children. Children and Youth Services Review, 2012
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"Having a unifying line saying we're all measuring working poverty the same way is important before we can see how any changes or improvements are made," Sanders said. "You can't fix a problem until you know what is the problem."

The study estimates that between 6.4 million and 8 million heads of families classify as working poor, which is actually less than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2011 estimate of 10.6 million.
Accurate data on the working poor is timely for current political dialogue. Recent months have seen low-wage workers staging "Fight for $15" rallies to raise the minimum wage nationwide. Whether or not a minimum wage hike would fix the problem, Sanders says the status quo is not the answer.

"It's been the push, that if we can get people working, then they'll get out of poverty," Sanders said. "But we have millions of Americans working, playing by the rules, and they're still trapped in poverty."
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Generous welfare benefits make people more likely to want to work, not less
"Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work and dependency cultures," the researchers say. "This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labor market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states."  
Story Source: Materials provided by SAGE Publications.  Kjetil van der Wel and Knut Halvorsen. The bigger the worse? A comparative study of the welfare state and employment commitment. Work, Employment and Society, March 2015.
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Story Source:  Materials provided by Brigham Young University.  B. C. Thiede, D. T. Lichter, S. R. Sanders. America's Working Poor: Conceptualization, Measurement, and New Estimates. Work and Occupations, 2015


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