The University of Edinburgh -

Working Papers on the Reconciliation of Work and Welfare in Europe

REC-WP 12 / 10

Why Are Some Workers Poor? The Mechanisms that Produce Working Poverty in a Comparative Perspective

Eric Crettaz and Giuliano Bonoli

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The objective of this article is to distinguish between different types of working poverty, on the basis of the mechanisms that produce it. Whereas the poverty literature identifies a myriad of risk factors and of categories of disadvantaged workers, we focus on three immediate causes of in-work poverty, namely low remuneration rate, weak labor force attachment, and high needs, the latter mainly due to the presence of children (and sometimes to the increase in needs caused by a family breakup). These three mechanisms are the channels through which macroeconomic, demographic and policy factors have a direct bearing on working households. The main assumption tested here is that welfare regimes strongly influence the relative weight of these three mechanisms in producing working poverty. Our figures confirm this hypothesis and show that low-wage employment is a key factor but, by far, not the only one, and that family policies broadly understood play a decisive role, as well as patterns of labour market participation and integration.


Working poverty, welfare regimes, welfare state, poverty mechanisms