Working Poor Today, millions of Americans belong to working poor families. That is, they live below 100 percent of the poverty threshold despite having at least one family member who works. Although these individuals and families strive to secure adequate income, many are often unable to meet their own most basic needs, let alone find the time, transportation, education, and other resources needed to improve their situation.
As a result of their severely limited incomes, each day tens of thousands of our citizens must choose between spending their limited resources on food or paying their utilities, rent or mortgage, or needed medical care and medicine. Facts about the Working Poor
Our “Hunger in America 2006” study––a comprehensive profile of the incidence and nature of hunger and food insecurity in the U.S.––helped define the plight of the working poor. For example, the study found that:
- 36 percent of households served by the Feeding America network included at least one employed adult.
- The average monthly income of these households in 2005 was $860, or 75 percent of the federal poverty level. Overall, the individuals surveyed indicated that a job was the main source of income for their households for the previous month.
- 66 percent of all households served by our network had annual incomes below the federal poverty line for 2004.
- 46 percent of households served by our network do not have access to a working car.
The regular costs of living consume a substantial percentage of a low-income working family’s budget; for example, poor and working poor families may pay as much as 40 to 50 percent of their household income for housing and utility costs. Additionally, many working poor families are employed in the service and retail sectors, which typically do not provide health care or retirement benefits, and whose hours sometimes make it difficult for potential beneficiaries to find the time (and often transportation) to get to a government or charity office to apply for benefits.
The unfortunate result of these challenges is that significant numbers of working poor families do not or are not able to take advantage of the public and private assistance programs available to them. These and other factors combine to make it extremely difficult for many to break the cycle of poverty and introduce even a basic level of economic security into their lives. Policy Recommendations to Help the Working Poor
While food and grocery products provided by charitable organizations like Feeding America are an invaluable support to America’s working poor families, charity can only go so far. Federal, state, and local governments also play a vital role in helping to relieve household hunger. There are a number of initiatives governments at all levels can put in place to help diminish food insecurity among the working poor:
Expand Food Stamp Accessibility
The Food Stamp Program is the nation’s cornerstone nutrition program. As such, Congress should continually strive to streamline and strengthen the program so that all eligible households can apply without undue administrative red tape. Additionally, states and counties should take all possible steps to reduce both administrative and social barriers to food stamp access.
Strengthen Child Nutrition Programs
Child nutrition programs are an important front-line defense against childhood hunger. Access to local, state, and federal child nutrition programs should be expanded and strengthened so that all qualified children can receive the meals they require. It is essential that key programs––the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the School Breakfast Program, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP); and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)––are fully funded, provide adequate and equitable reimbursement rates, and are expanded when necessary to ensure that more low-income children receive the food they need. Efforts should also be made to improve access to these programs in rural areas, as children living in rural parts of the country are dramatically underserved.
Increase Tax Deductions for Charitable Food Donations
Congress and state legislatures should expand tax deductions for food donations for the needy and broaden the base of individuals and groups to which such tax deductions are available. Each year, tens of billions of pounds of food goes to waste in the United States, in part because it is more cost-effective for organizations to dispose of surplus food than to donate it; adopting enhanced tax incentives could help transform this waste into millions of additional meals for low-income Americans. More Resources
More information on the challenges facing the working poor and the solutions that can be found in public policy initiatives can be found below.