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The working poor

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Theworking poor

Povertyis an issue that continues to overshadow the progress made by theglobal community in making life better for all of the humanity.Today, societies are not obliged to rely on traditional economicpractices for their survival as technological advances have availedfar more lucrative ventures that offer high returns. Though finding ajob is a challenge in some parts of the world, citizens in the firstworld countries are more likely to get some form of employment ifthey are determined. However, in an era where globalization has madethe world borderless, the concept of a job and the traditionalaspects associated with it are being eroded at an enormous rate.Traditionally, a working person was expected to have the ability tocater to their needs and those of their family and in most cases savesome money for emergencies. However, this has changed as todaymillions of working citizens are being considered as poor. Thus, theconcept of the working poor is no longer an issue for underdevelopednations, but a major concern for most governments (Andress andHenning, p 133). The paper provides an informative analysis on theissue of the working poor. It also uses sociology theories to try andexplain how the concept relates to social inequality.

Theworking poor

TheUS government defines the working poor as everyone who spendsapproximately 27 weeks annually in the job market either working orlooking for employment, but still fall under the poverty line. The USBureau of Statistics estimates that in American alone there arearound ten million working poor and this accounts for just above 6%of the total working population (Shipler, p 213). Most of the peoplein this category are part of the minorities who are unable to get adecent and well-paying full-time job. One issue that was familiar inall these numbers is that most of them lack academic qualificationsthat are required by most employers before agreeing to availemployment opportunities.

Theworking poor thus refers to people that wake up every morning and goto their place of work, but are unable to have a decent livelihood.As a result, these individuals start a chain reaction that makes itdifficult even for future generations to better their lives given thefact that they lack access to basic tools that are required in orderfor one to improve their chances of making it in life (Koch, p 37). face several challenges in their lives and theseissues play a factor in ensuring that they remain below the povertyline.

Problemsfacing the working poor

Thereare several problems that the working poor face and these issues makeit impossible for these members of the society to free themselvesfrom the shackles of poverty. Firstly, these individual are facedwith the challenge of having the lowest-paying and yet most unstablejobs. Most people in this category lack qualifications that can helpthem in bargaining for better salaries and job security (Edelman, p107). As a result, they are left to compete for low paying jobs wherethe employer has little or no consideration for their rights andwell-being. A significant percentage of these workers are employed inservice industries and retail trade enterprises. The demandingnature of these jobs makes it difficult for them to either acquireanother part-time employment or acquire additional skills that canenable them to ascend the employment ladder. Additionally, the wagespaid to these workers are way too low making it practicallyimpossible for them to get out of poverty or save and begin theirventures.

Theworking poor also lacks full year employment. It is estimated thatmost working poor individual work for two-thirds of a year on averageas opposed to working all year as is the case for most employedpeople. This is because these individual rarely find full-timeemployment and thus are forced to work as part-time workers. Thosethat work full time usually engage in involuntary part-time workassignment as they try to increase their earning or compensate forperiods that they will be unemployed (Koch, p 41). Additionally, theworking poor are exposed to a higher risk of involuntary layoffs intheir place of work. This is because they are employed in placeswhere operations are seasonal, and when the activity level goes down,they are discharges as the entity makes efforts to lower theiroperating costs. The cycle keeps repeating itself thus wearing downthe workers without any long-term benefits.

Anotherproblem associated with the working poor is that they either do nothave academic qualifications or the ones they hold are too poor toenable them bargain for better wages. A significant percentage ofthese individuals do not hold a high school degree and the number ofthose that hold a college education is too small. In today’s jobmarket, educational qualifications are essential for anyone who islooking forward to getting into the employment sector (Edelman, p109). This is worsened by the fact that increased completion betweenentities and the need to cut costs has made it less unlikely foremployers to offer professional training to their workers. This meansthat all those that do not possess any skills cannot be assured oftheir future in the entity.

Healthconstraint is another issue that continues to pose a challenge forthe working poor. Studies have consistently shown that anapproximated one-thirds of these members of society suffer from someform of health limitation or have been diagnosed with conditions thatmake it impossible for them to work hard and uplift themselves andtheir families from poverty. The health condition poses great threatsto the workers as the nature of their work requires one to be healthyfor them to be able to deliver (Andress and Henning, p 126). As aresult, they have to continue worrying about job security and theirability to continue working. Additionally, those workers that sufferfrom health conditions have to cater for recurring expenses onmedication, and this consumes a significant portion of their totalearning leaving them with little or no money to save.

Anotherchallenge that is commonly faced by the working poor is that they areless likely to hail from two-parent families. Most of the people whoare found in this category come from families led by single parents,usually the mother, with a very low percentage coming from homeswhere both parents are present. A family is a paramount asset in thatit provides a person with some motivation to continue working hard(Fields, p 91). Additionally, when children live with two parents,they have a higher chance of getting an education because of thesavings that are acquired from pooling all the money earned togetherand allocating resources based on priorities. However, the fact thatmost of the people in this category do not come from such homes makesit difficult for them to save or get the motivation required to workhard until they can uplift themselves from poverty.

Theworking poor rarely participates in welfare programs available tothem even when they qualify and are in need of such. There areseveral avenues that have been developed by government authorities totry and help those that are in most need through availing programslike food stamp benefit for which a majority of the working poorqualify (Droste-Franke, p 259). However, research has shown that ofall those who qualify for the programs, only a third apply to get thebenefits. There is no indication as to why these members of societyrefuse to partake in the programs, but it is clearly not because theydo not need help. It is actions like these that ensure the workingpoor continue to live in poverty even though they work hard aseverybody else if not more.

Lastly,the working poor encounter an enormous challenge in regards toaccessing healthcare. As noted above, the nature of the jobs thatthese individuals engage in coupled with the fact that theenvironment where they live is not so conducive makes it impossiblefor them not to have to tackle health challenges. However, they lacka favourable health care coverage plan that can be used to alleviatethe burden of catering to their medical needs. Additionally, thenature of their job makes it difficult for them to be provided withinsurance by their employers (Ziesemer, p 57). This results in nocoverage for these employees leaving them with the burden of cateringfor all their medical expenses. Thus, these people are unable to saveand this makes it impossible for them to uplift their families frompoverty.

Havingestablished the issues that continue to face the working poor, it isimportant to analyze factors that have led to this situation. Takingthe example of the United States, the number of people that fallunder this category has continued to grow over time. At the turn ofthe century, the number of people that were considered as either pooror working poor consisted a mere 1.7% of all households. However,this number has continued to rise steadily over time, and by 2011 thefigure stood at 4.3% of all households ((Rodrigues and Tim, p 9).These statistics are alarming, especially given the fact that therehas been a lot of developments that have been aimed at improvingpeople`s livelihoods. Before analysing sociological theories andconcept that shed more light on the working poor, it is importantfirst to establish the reasons for the continuing surge in the numberof households that are termed as working poor.

Reasonsfor the growing number of people classified as working poor

Globalizationhas been viewed as the greatest cause of the rise in the number ofthe working poor. As indicated by recent trends, the trade policy hasopened up opportunities for manufacturing corporations to set upshops in regions that favour their operations either by easing accessto materials and areas that allow them to cut other costs like labour(Srai, p 19). This has led to major organizations shipping theirbusiness overseas so as to escape the operational costs that aresignificantly high because of the existence of labour regulations.This has affected most of the working poor because most of the jobsthat are shipped to other countries are the ones that require fewerskills and are thus occupied by most of the people that fall underthis bracket (Shipler, p 196). The manufacturing industries havetaken advantage of the flaws in trade laws and set up theiroperations in regions where the authorities are not strict and issueslike child labour and or ensuring that people are not working indilapidated conditions. This has led to an exit of all entities thatmay offer the working poor jobs from developed countries.

Anothercause of the surge is the lack of social capital for these members ofsociety. Networks are vital in helping people climb the socialladder. However, the working poor live in neighborhoods that`s aredilapidated and where crime rates are very high. As a result, thesepeople do not care about or trust each other (Ziesemer, p 41). Thismakes them prefer to operate unilaterally and thus slowing progress.The lack of human networks among the people makes it difficult forthe working poor to create networks that are economically efficientand that have the capacity to lift them out of poverty.

Thephenomenon of the care penalty is another reason why there are somany people in the working poor category. As stated earlier, mostindividuals in this category hail from families that are supported bya single parent. The high level of development in industrializednations has led to an increase in the cost of acquiring properchildcare services. As a result, most women that have children whostill require care are forced to quit their jobs in order for them tobe able to cater to the needs of their infants (Droste-Franke, p262). With an increase in the number of single parents in advancedeconomies, the number of people that continue to cross over from themiddle-class category to the working poor is on the rise. Thesituation is made worse by the ever increasing cost of living whichmeans that the little money that is earned is all redirected towardscatering for the daily needs of these people.

Lastly,the inability for the society to keep up with recent developmentshave also played a role in enabling the percentage of peopleconsidered as the working poor to rise. As the world became morereliant on machines and technology, most governments failed toallocate resources aimed at ensuring people also reinvent themselvesto become relevant in the current job market. Additionally, theeducation system has not been overhauled or adjusted to meet theemerging needs of today’s world (Fields, p 84). As a result, thereis a whole generation of workers who grew up at a time when they knewthat even with the most basic of skills one was able to make a decentliving. With the shift in labour requirements, these people have beenleft stranded with no decent chance of reinventing themselves andacquire the necessary skills that will be essential in helping themadjust. The worrying fact about this trend is that since these peoplehave been crippled economically, they are unable to provide theirchildren with the necessary tools needed to compete in the currentera, thus ensuring more people will likely form be part of theworking poor in the near future.


Theissue of class and economic inequality is a matter that has been ofinterest for sociologists for a very long time. This has led to sometheories being presented with the aim of trying to enlighten thesociety on the possible reasons as to why class differences exist. falls under the sociological concept ofstratification. The concept refers to the manner in which people aresubdivided into hierarchical social categories in communities basedonly on their ability to accumulate wealth, prestige, and power.These inequalities are the basis upon which ownership of resources isdetermined (Rodrigues and Tim, p 15).

Theconcept was first introduced by Karl Max, who argued that a person’sposition in society is based on their wealth and the place they fitin society. As such, there are the capitalists who are owners ofcapital with the power to allocate and control resources and theproletariat who are employed by the capitalist with wages being theirreward. As a result, there will be an uneven distribution of thewealth that is gotten from the partnership between the capitalistsand the proletariat.

Itis important to note that class divides are not necessarily a badconcept. Under the law of natural selection, society will always beable to place people in areas where they can make the most impact.Thus, those that possess wealth will always have the upper hand overthose that depend on wages as a means of acquiring prestige andposition (Srai, p 12). Stratification tries to show that thoughsocieties may want to ensure a legacy where all people have a fairchance of accumulating wealth, the upper bracket will always be at adisadvantage.

Sociologistsview the issue of the working power as a confirmation of the factthat capitalism as a strategy that is inherently unable to achievethe concept of equal distribution if resources. Its continuedapplication will only lead to over-concentration of resources in thehands of very few while the majority of the population remaindependent (Eitzen, Maxine, and Kelly, p 318). However, from afunctionalist perspective, this is the only way that society canbecome efficient. It must be able to reward people based on theirskills and talents. Thus, this is an approach that bars those who bysome reasons were unable to acquire wealth from reaching their fullpotential.

Theother issue which is related to the working poor is in its effect ondifferent practices. Today, the society has become consumer-drivenwith people coming to believe that their worth is pegged on thingsthey are able to purchase. A good example is a cell phone which hasbecome a household item. Though this is not a necessity and in somecase can be termed as a luxury to the working poor, it is common tohave people from this group purchasing such an item just to have asense of belonging even when the decision is economically misadvised(Muysken, and Ziesemer, p 4056). Those that acquire these unnecessaryitems do so in a bid to create the perception that they belong in themiddle-class bracket even though this is not the case.

Implicationsof the paper

Theconcept of the working poor for a very long time had been associatedwith societies that hail from underdeveloped nations. However, theabove discussion, it evident that this is an issue that faces eventhe most advanced economies with the US being a good casing point.However, it is concerning to note that currently there are morequestions than answers about issues that affect the working poor.There is very little research that has been made to try andunderstand some of the behaviours that are continuously beingportrayed by members of the society from this bracket.

Theimplication of this is that sociologists have their work cut out forthem as they work to provide much needed answers as to what informsthe behaviour of this group. Additionally, there is a need to provideinformation on ways that communities can come together and alleviatesome of the issue affecting the working poor. Thus, it is upon thoseindividuals in different fields of sociology to invest time,resources and technical knowledge and ensure that stakeholders have avariety of options that can be used to better the lives of thesepeople.


Fromthe above discussion, it is evident that there are a lot of peoplethat form part of the working poor. Though these individuals engagein different economic activities, the rewards for their efforts arenot substantive enough to enable them to cater for all their needs.In an increasingly competitive world where the most qualified are theones that are assured of their livelihood, the number of the workingpoor is likely to grow. Though the concept was traditionallyassociated with developing economies, the report above shows that nocountry is immune from this trend. It is, therefore, important fordifferent stakeholders to come up with policies that will ensure thatthe number of people in this brackets is significantly reduced.

Thefield of sociology has a great responsibility of ensuring that thereis enough information that can be relied upon to make informeddecisions on the way forward. Thus, they need to embark on a lot ofresearch to ensure that the Society has information on all theaspects and thus can be able to be pre-emptive. The greatestresponsibility lies with the government that has the obligation ofensuring there are enough resources that can be applied so as tomitigate on the matter. Though these efforts may not have animmediate effect in changing the harsh realities being faced by theworking poor, they will be the first steps towards ensuring futuregenerations will not be faced with the same challenges.


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