The number of working Americans earning so little they lived in poverty reached 7.2 percent of the labor force in 2010, the highest level in at least two decades, the US government said on Friday.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 7.6 percent of women among the working poor, compared to 6.7 percent of men. In 2009, the working poor rate was 7 percent.
Education made a huge difference. Among workers who had not graduated from high school, 21.4 percent lived below the official poverty line against only 2.1 percent of those with a university degree. The highest rate was among the unemployed looking for work during the year at 35.1 percent.
The official poverty line in 2010 was an annual income of US$10,830 for a single person and US$22,050 for a family of four.
Overall, the US had 46.2 million people living in poverty that year, or 15.1 percent of the population of all ages. The working poor totaled 10.5 million.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a special survey last year which it is used to calculate the figures, based on those who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks, either working or looking for work.
The rate for working poor was 5.5 percent in 1987, the furthest back that the bureau included in its report, and in 1999 it fell below 5 percent.