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December 1992, Vol. 115, No. 12
Working and poor in 1990
Jennifer M. Gardner and Diane E. Herz
For many years, policymakers, analysts, and workers have been interested in the relationship between work and the poverty status of families. Interest in poverty escalated in the 1960's when many poverty-reduction efforts were put into place for the first time.1 In the early 1980's, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began analyzing the relationship between work and the economic status of families, and published data annually from 1982 to 1987 in bulletins titled Linking Employment Problems to Economic Status.
In 1989, BLS researchers Bruce Klein and Philip Rones developed a new method for linking individuals' labor market efforts to the poverty status of their families.2 This was a complex task, as poverty is usually defined in a family context, while work is the result of efforts of individual family members. Klein and Rones defined the "working poor" as persons who devoted more than half of the year to working or looking for work and who lived in families with incomes below the official poverty level. A 27-week minimum was used as the period of labor force activity needed to develop meaningful linkages between an individual's work or work seeking efforts and the economic status of the individual's family.
This article uses Klein's and Rones' definition of the working poor, and analyzes the incidence and causes of poverty among U.S. workers and their families using data for 1990, the most recent available. It focuses on families maintained by single women, in particular, because they are likely to have the most difficult time making ends meet.3
This excerpt is from an article published in the December 1992 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 See Gary Burtless, "Public Spending for the Poor: Trends, Prospect, and Economic Limits," in Sheldon H. Danziger and Daniel H. Weinberg, eds., Fighting Poverty: What Works and What Doesn't (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 18.
2 See Bruce W. Klien and Philip L Rones, "A profile of the working poor," Monthly Labor Review, October 1989, pp. 3-13.
3 This analysis uses data from the March 1991 supplement to the monthly Current Population Survey, a survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The supplement includes questions on employment, unemployment, time out of the labor force, earnings, and income. The restriction to more than half the year devoted to labor market efforts includes any weeks in the labor force totaling 27 or more during a calendar year.
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