Hard work, hard lives: Survey of low wage workers in America

Home care aide Malrissa Perkins feeds Alan B. Smith in Lincoln, MA. The number of personal care aides will increase 70 percent between 2010 and 2020; the median pay is $10 an hour. Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Workers talk about the reality of low-wage work in America

Millions of Americans work hard at jobs that do not sustain them and their families financially. Oxfam recognizes the importance of looking closely at poverty that often gets too little attention—such as that which exists even in wealthy nations like the US. Hoping to call attention to the harsh realities of life for low-wage workers, and to elevate the voices of America’s working poor, Oxfam America commissioned a national survey of low-wage workers in 2013.

The survey— conducted by Hart Research Associates—revealed stark and sometimes unexpected results, and raised anew questions about poverty and inequality in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

The survey found that America’s working poor have a strong work ethic, put in long hours, and believe that hard work can pay off. At the same time, millions of Americans hold jobs that trap them in a cycle of working hard while still unable to get ahead, which leaves them with little hope for economic mobility. Many of America’s working poor are in jobs that pay less than previous jobs, and an overwhelming majority believes that people are more likely to fall from the middle class rather than rise into it.

  • Hard Work, Hard Lives explores the findings of the survey. The report generated substantial media coverage, and was the focus of two events in Washington, DC, that brought together experts from many fields, as well as poor working women who conveyed the reality of their lives.

Voices on US Poverty: Right the Wrong is another initiative to spur discussion about domestic poverty issues. It begins with a series of essays by advocates, economists, journalists, military and faith leaders—all of whom are eager to bring issues of economic and social justice into the national debate. See all the essays

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