America’s Work Problem: How Addressing the Reasons People Don’t Work Can Reduce Poverty

Employment benefits families and individuals by supplying income, but it also provides dignity and purpose. Yet too few of America’s poor work for pay, which not only robs them of this sense of purpose but also affects their families’ prospects for prosperity.

The reasons poor, working-age people cite for not working primarily fall into two categories: nonworkers (overwhelmingly female) with children tend to cite family and home responsibilities, and those without children disproportionately cite disability and illness. Looking for but not finding work accounts for a small overall share.

To meaningfully reduce poverty, public policy must focus on improving the health of America’s poor, decreasing work disincentives built into public programs, and providing work supports to poor parents.

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