Why Focus on the Working Poor?

I started photographing the working poor in 2008 when 8.9 million people made up this population.  I felt a sense of urgency around this issue because I was afraid that if I didn’t get my work seen as soon as possible that it would lose its relevance.  Since my first exhibition in 2009, the statistics continue to overwhelm and the subject of working poverty is more relevant today than ever.

The most recent data in 2015 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that 8.6 million people were considered working poor, a decrease of only 300,000 in the last 7 years!  They are defined as people who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force (that is, working or looking for work) but whose incomes still fell below the official poverty level.  The official poverty level in 2018 is $12,140 for an individual and $25,100 for family of 4 according to the US Dept. of Health & Human Services.

While offering some context, the statistics don’t even begin to tell the whole story.  The individuals making an income above the poverty level, but not making enough to make a living, aren’t reflected in these statistics on working poverty. More and more people are not able to bridge the gap between a paying wage and a living wage.  I continue to photograph this population so that we don’t become complacent by the rhetoric of those who congratulate themselves for raising minimum wage and decreasing unemployment.  The reality is there are millions of hard-working people who still can’t attain the basic necessities for living.

poverty photography project