A report by The Working Poor Families Project, based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, found conditions worsened for the working poor in the four years ending in 2006, as the number of low-income working families increased by 350,000. The project is funded by the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Joyce and C.S. Mott Foundations.
The report defines a low-income working family as those earning less than twice the Census definition of poverty. In 2006, the most recent year for available data, a family of four earning $41,228 or less qualified as a low-income family.
The number of jobs with pay below the poverty threshold increased to 29.4 million, or 22 percent of all jobs, in 2006 from 24.7 million, or 19 percent of all jobs, in 2002.
"The real surprising news, the alarming news, is that both the number and percentage of low-income families increased during this period," said Brandon Roberts, co-author of the report. "This was a time when we had solid and robust economic growth."
An increase in poverty "is not just a new phenomena over the last six months," he said.
Poverty-wage jobs increased in part because 2.5 million new jobs paid poverty wages; additionally 2.2 million jobs that paid greater than poverty wages in 2002 became poverty-wage jobs by 2006, as pay failed to keep up with the cost of living, Roberts said.
In two states, Mississippi and New Mexico, 40 percent of working families were low income in 2006, according to the report.
In 11 other states, at least 33 percent of working families were low income: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
The number of low-income families rose to nearly 9.6 million, or 28 percent of the total population, in 2006 from 9.2 million, or roughly 27 percent, in 2002, according to the report. The number of children in low-income families rose by roughly 800,000 during the same period, climbing to 21 million from 20.2 million.
During the period, the number of working families spending more than one-third of their income on housing grew to 59 percent from 52 percent.
The report sought to address what it called myths about low-income families. For instance, it found 72 percent of low-income families work, with adults in low-income working families working, on average, 2,552 hours per year in 2006, the equivalent of one and one-quarter full-time jobs.
It also found that 52 percent of low-income families are headed by married couples; 69 percent have only American-born parents; 43 percent are white and non-Hispanic and only one-quarter of low-income families receive food stamp assistance.