Labor Supply and the Poor: Some Facts That Might (or Might Not) Surprise You | Jared Bernstein | On the Economy

It is way too common in this town to run into people who think that poor people are poor because they don’t work. Influential Congressman Paul Ryan has referred to safety net benefits as “a hammock” that create “poverty trap” and a culture of non-work, a rap as old as poverty itself. Various critics of poverty programs argue that their benefit structure dis-incentivizes work and are increasingly calling for more work requirements.

I needed to look into the numbers of working poor persons for a project I’m doing and I found the results kind of interesting (h/t: AS and DT). I suspect everyone brings different priors to this question, but some might be surprised by these results.

In fact, among poor people who are neither kids, elderly, nor disabled, half (49%) worked in 2012, when the unemployment rate was 8.1%. If you take out those who didn’t work because they were going to school, 57% worked (i.e., among poor, non-disabled adults, 18-64, not in school, 57% worked).

Digging a bit deeper in these numbers, of the 46 million poor people in 2012, about 20 million (43%) were kids (35%) or elderlies (8%). The other 26 million poor were 18-64. Of those, about 11 million worked and 16 million did not work (rounding screws up the totals a bit).

However, of those non-working 16 million adults, 5 million did not work due to illness or disability. So, of the about 21 million, non-disabled poor adults, half worked (and another 3 million did not work because they were in school).

To read the rest of Jared’s blog post, click here.

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