Working Class Poverty in America

The Cambridge dictionary defines “Working class,” as “The group of people in society who use physical skills in their jobs and are usually paid by the hour.” In July of 2015 it was found that roughly 106 million Americans fell into this classification (that’s 71% of all nonfarm payroll employees. That being said, the average weekly income a person is working in the service sector is about $896.60 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The poverty line for a one-person household is $12,060 per year, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An average service worker’s yearly income is only 46,623.20. While that may not initially seem alarming, that is comparing only to the poverty line for a one-person home. Add in a family, say, 2 kids, as the average American home has and the poverty line is lifted to $28,780. That still may seem like it is not that concerning still. Let me put it this way. Poverty is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” Poverty is not a tight wallet. Poverty is not skipping eating out to save a few bucks. Poverty is not having to wear last years model of the latest and greatest trend. Poverty is not even struggling to make ends meet. Poverty is having to skip meals. Poverty is having the same two shirts that you wear every day and not being able to afford to clean them. Poverty is holes in your shoes. Poverty is street corners. Poverty is cardboard signs. Poverty can be homelessness. It can be shelters. It can be not knowing how you will somehow scrape together your next meal. Poverty is barely having enough to scrape by. While $30,000 above the poverty seem like living some luxurious life it is just not that.

Another concern that comes from these working conditions and wage issues is a rise in mental health issues. In an interview posted in an article by The Atlantic, “One man I talked to was 47 years old, the son of a Detroit factory worker who headed into the plants himself… He told me how he recently lost his $11-an-hour job: He was driving a forklift at his company’s plant when he accidentally crashed into a ladder. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged—but he was an at-will worker at a company with no union, and he was fired. Shortly afterward, his wife, who was making $8 an hour at a cleaning company, decided to leave him. The stress of failing to find a job and being alone made him too depressed to eat, and he started taking antidepressants.” This was especially striking to me that as a high school student with no formal training or background I work in a job that pays me $11.50 an hour.

Most if not all of the Service Sector jobs exist because of the Industrial Revolution. While the innovations and technology brought by the Revolution are incredible and bring very necessary jobs and tools to modern society, the setup for these jobs is not ideal as it leaves people barely getting by.


In an interview J.D. Vance, Author of Hillbilly Elegy, a book which explores “hillbilly” life in the Appalachian Mountains, said, “So this area of the country – and I’m not talking about just Jackson. I’m talking also about southwestern Ohio. In some ways, it’s been decimated by the decline of the industrial economy. So people used to rely on automotive jobs, steel mill jobs, coal jobs. And those things, for the most part, simply don’t exist. The factories have either shed those jobs or closed down altogether.”

In an economy where millions of jobs depend heavily on industry that was brought forth by the industrial revolution, the current decline in these areas has caused a great upset in the economy leaving more working class Americans far too close to the poverty line.



Works Cited
Chen, Victor Tan. “All Hollowed Out.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.
DeSilver, Drew. “10 Facts about American Workers.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research, 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.
“‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Author On The White Working Class And America’s Greatness.” NPR. NPR, 04 Aug. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.
“Poverty Guidelines.” ASPE. APSE, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.
“Table B-3. Average Hourly and Weekly Earnings of All Employees on Private Nonfarm Payrolls by Industry Sector, Seasonally Adjusted.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 07 Apr. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

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