Economic Snapshot | Inequality and Poverty

Poor People Work: A Majority of Poor People Who Can Work Do

Raising America's Pay

The figure below shows the population of those in poverty segmented into various labor status categories. The top bar shows that 35.2 percent of the poor between the ages of 18 and 64 in 2013 were considered not currently eligible to work because they are retired, going to school, or disabled. The other 64.8 percent of working-age poor are currently eligible to work. The second bar shows us that among these currently-eligible workers, 62.6 percent are working and 44.3 percent are working full-time. Of the working-age poor eligible for employment, 37.4 percent are not working—a share that includes the 3.3 million unemployed poor people currently seeking a job.

Despite what some policymakers and pundits might have us believe, a significant share of the poor work. This means that policies that boost employment and wages are important and underappreciated tools for reducing poverty. To boost wage-growth and reduce poverty rates, a policy agenda must include provisions to raise the minimum wage, raise the overtime threshold, eliminate wage theft, and strengthen workers’ collective bargaining rights.

This data was taken from the forthcoming paper Broad-Based Wage Growth is a Key Tool in the Fight Against Poverty, which is part of EPI’s Raising America’s Pay initiative. An event will be held to release the paper at EPI on May 20, 2015, at 11AM. To RSVP and receive a copy of the embargoed paper, email For more information about the event, visit

See related work on Poverty | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth | Raising America's Pay

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