Why a white fast-food employee in Mississippi who never started college is the statistical epitome of American poverty
One in four U.S. workers -- or nearly 40 million people -- earn a salary below the federal poverty line of $23,000 for a family of four.* Who are they, where are they, and how does their education differ from the rest of the country? A wonderful new paper from the Economic Policy Institute explains it all.
Let's start with where they work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts 22 job categories, ranging from building and grounds maintenance (which employes one in 30 working people) to office and administrative support (which employs one in six). In 2010, the category with the highest share of low-income workers by far -- nearly 75%! -- was food preparation and serving. That was followed by personal care, which also happens to be the fastest growing occupation in the next decade, according to BLS.
The chart below looks at the six occupations with the highest share of low-wage workers (in RED) and also shows you their share of the total workforce (in BLUE). The upshot is that the top six six categories -- each with at least a third of their workers earning less than $23,000 -- make up more than one-third of the economy. Broadly speaking, the occupations with some of the worst pay are local-service jobs, especially in the non-tradable sector.