In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 46.2 million people, or 15.0 percent of the nation’s population, lived below the official poverty level. Although the poor were primarily children and adults who had not participated in the labor force during the year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10.4 million individuals were among the “working poor” in 2011; this measure was little changed from 2010.The BLS definition of working poor includes all adults 16 and over who were working or looking for work for at least half the year. Thus, the total is affected by the number of unemployed. However, 40 percent of the working poor were adults who usually worked full-time and were in the labor force for the entire year.
As with other poverty statistics, poverty rates among the working poor are higher for blacks, Hispanics, women, and people with less education.
A primary culprit in poverty among workers is extremely low wage rates. The BLS defines "low earnings" as weekly earnings that are less than what a person working 40 hours per week at the average inflation-adjusted minimum wage from 1967-1987; in 2011, the threshold was $331 per week. The BLS found that two-thirds of full-time working poor adults had wages that were lower than this.
Sadly, these are exactly the people and families that North Carolina's Republican legislature have targeted in their spending plans. Starting in July, workers who lose their jobs will see the amounts and duration of their unemployment compensation cut. Low-income workers in NC will also see a reduced earned income tax credit this year. And the Republicans have decided to turn down federal funds to extend Medicaid benefits to these families. Republicans may also soon shift more of the tax burden toward the working poor.
Outcomes for many workers have been miserable for the last few years. Shamefully, NC's legislature and governor are compounding that misery.