Special Report

How Many Full-Time Workers Were in Poverty the Year You Were Born

Poverty in the U.S. rose to 11.4% of the population last year, a 1 percentage point increase from 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The official poverty rate does not account for the pandemic-related emergency stimulus checks, which helped rescue millions of families from falling into poverty. The official poverty rate increased in 2020 after five consecutive annual decreases.

Millions of American adults 16 and older live in poverty, though the numbers have fluctuated over the years since 1978, from 16.8 million to 32.5 millions. Among these tens of millions of Americans 16 years and older who live below the official poverty level are millions who actually work full-time, year-round. (This is the city hit hardest by extreme poverty in every state.)

Since 1978, between 6.1% and 12.6% of the 16 and older Americans who lived in poverty have worked full-time, year-round. Though they work full time, these workers — between 1.3 million and 3.1 million, depending on the year — earn poverty-level wages.

A great many more of the age group work, but not full time or year-round. Since 1978, between 29.6% and 42.5% of Americans 16 years and older who lived below the poverty line have worked at least part time. (This is the poverty rate the year you were born.)

Women are more likely than men to be among the working poor. Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than whites and Asians to be among the working poor, too. Individuals without college educations and who work in the low-wage services industries are also far more likely to be working poor.

Here’s the number of full-time and part-time working people living in poverty each year since 1978

To determine the number of full-time, year-round working people living in poverty each year, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed U.S. Census Bureau data going back to 1978. Additional data includes the percentage of people in poverty who are working full time, year-round out of all working-age people in poverty; the number of people working, but not year-round or full-time, who are in poverty; and the percentage of poor part-time workers out of all working-age people in poverty.