America's Working Poor: Conceptualization, Measurement, and New Estimates

Brian C. Thiede, Daniel T. Lichter, Scott R. Sanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


This article addresses measurement challenges that have stymied contemporary research on the working poor. The authors review previously used measurement schemes and discuss conceptual assumptions that underlie each. Using 2013 March Current Population Survey data, the authors estimate national- and race-specific rates of working poverty using more than 125 measures. The authors then evaluate the association between each measure and a latent construct of working poverty using factor analysis and develop a working poverty index derived from these results. Finally, the authors estimate multivariate regression models to identify key social and demographic risk factors for poverty among workers. The authors’ national estimates of working poverty range from 2% to nearly 19% and are highly sensitive to alternative assumptions. The authors’ analyses find that the latent construct is most highly correlated with empirical measures of working poverty that include part-time or part-year employment and that use poverty income thresholds that include both the poor and near poor. Crude rates and conditional risks of poverty among workers vary considerably among racial groups. This article provides a conceptual and empirical baseline for decisions about how best to estimate the magnitude and composition of America's working poor population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-312
Number of pages46
JournalWork and Occupations
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 14 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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