Meeting Basic Needs on Low Income Wages in a Local Setting in Southern California: Experiences of the Working Poor

My past experiences within the working poor class faction have compelled this thesis and the desire to create a grassroots project to help the working poor and others with limited incomes in my local community. I entered the field seeking to learn the strategies the working poor use to meet subsistence and to gain knowledge of unmet needs. Through the study of prior research, qualitative inquiries, and ethnographic observations, a wide range of challenges and survival strategies have materialized in response to the research question, “How do the working poor currently utilize existing personal resources, subsidies, and networking opportunities to meet subsistence?” The subsistence research and community action projects conducted by and for the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (ICCED) are valuable contributors to this project. A qualitative inquiry comparing actual earned income and expenses of the five participants with the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Riverside County 2011 (ICCED-Riv) revealed gaps to meet subsistence ranging from $12,327 to $42,722 in annual income. The significant themes produced through this research included: Reducing subsistence need, survival networks, maximizing existing resources, altruism, and challenges of working. The strategy most utilized by participants was to reduce the amount of money they needed to meet subsistence in the first place. All participants were successful in reducing their subsistence needs significantly, revealing savings ranging from $1,231 per month (or $14,772 annually) to $3,250 per month (or $39,000 annually). The participant group varied in race, gender, maritial status, family size, whether they had children, and type of dwelling they lived in.