The working poor are a substantial group in the overall poverty statistics and are estimated to constitute 10% of European workers. This report examines in-work poverty in the European Union, picking up where a previous Eurofound report on this subject, published in 2010, ended. It looks at how in-work poverty evolved in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, based on analysis of the latest data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC).
While the prevalence of in-work poverty has been studied before, less is known about what it means to be one of the working poor. This report examines the social ramifications of in-work poverty by describing the wellbeing and living conditions of the working poor. It also
looks at different measures adopted by governments to prevent or alleviate in-work poverty, especially indirect measures that improve the living standards of the working poor. These indirect measures have not received much policy attention compared with direct measures to increase incomes, such as minimum wages and social transfers.
- Although it is difficult to discern clear trends, there
is a link between increases in non-standard forms of
employment in many countries and the expansion
in the proportion of Europeans at risk of in-work
- The working poor face significantly more social
problems than the population as a whole: in-work
poverty is associated with lower levels of subjective
and mental well-being, problems with
accommodation, as well as poorer relationships
with other people and feelings of social exclusion.
This finding demonstrates the importance of paying
specific attention to this group and better
documenting the social situation of people at risk of
- Most Member States do not specifically address
in-work poverty, and the examples in this report
show that governments and the social partners
have approached the issue through the discussion
of poverty more generally, with a particular focus
on measures to get people into work.
Consequently, the number of policies that are
designed explicitly to protect or improve the
situation of the working poor is limited.
- While an adequate minimum wage is a core pillar of
any model of social protection for the working poor,
it is clear that policy attention should rather be on
minimum household income to reflect more
accurately the situation of many of the working
- One advantage of measures that indirectly improve
the living standards of the working poor is that they
help these households without necessarily having
them as their main focus. Unfortunately, this can
also be a significant disadvantage because the risk
exists that these measures fail to reach the working
poor. The impact of indirect measures as a tool to
prevent in-work poverty needs to be further