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About 40 percent of the U.S. workforce ages 25 to 64 earned hourly wages of $16 or less (in constant 2016 dollars) over the period 1995 through 2016. The combination of low wages and few hours worked compounded the income disadvantage of low-wage workers and likely contributed to their potential eligibility for federal social safety net programs.

About 20 percent of families with a worker earning up to the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour), 13 percent of families with a worker earning above federal minimum wage to $12.00 per hour, and 5 percent of families with a worker earning $12.01 to $16 per hour were in poverty in each year GAO reviewed (see figure). The extent of poverty varied considerably by the type of family in which a worker lived. For example, single-parent families earning the federal minimum wage or below comprised a higher percentage of families in poverty. In contrast, married families with no children comprised the lowest percentage of families in poverty, and generally had family incomes at or above the poverty line.

Low-Wage Workers: Poverty and Use of Selected Federal Social Safety Net Programs Persist among Working Families
GAO-17-677, September 22