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PolitiFact.com | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in politics

Having a job does offer some immunity against poverty

Readers asked us to check Rep. Steve Southerland’s claim that if you have a job, there’s a “97 percent chance” that you’re not going to be in poverty. Here he calls on reporters during a news conference on the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty.

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Readers asked us to check Rep. Steve Southerland’s claim that if you have a job, there’s a “97 percent chance” that you’re not going to be in poverty. Here he calls on reporters during a news conference on the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty.

The statement

"If you have a job in this country, (there's a) 97 percent chance that you're not going to be in poverty."

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, Jan. 12 on Fox News Sunday

The ruling

Five decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty, Fox News Sunday invited Rep. Southerland, among others, to discuss the anniversary.

Host John Roberts asked Southerland about ending current programs and moving to a system of block grants: "You said, looking back on Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, it has failed and failed miserably. Do you keep putting more money into existing programs or do you — as Sen. Marco Rubio suggested earlier this week — fundamentally reform everything, (taking) a big pot of money that the federal government has and (giving) that to the states to administer in innovative ways?"

Southerland responded, "I think you have to look at the indicators — the fundamentals of these programs. Look what causes poverty.

We know that two-parent families (are) a child's greatest opportunity to avoid poverty. We know that a good quality education with daily parent involvement … reduces poverty. … If you have a job in this country, (there's a) 97 percent chance that you're not going to be in poverty. And so, therefore, I think there's a better way."

Several readers asked us to check Southerland's claim that if you have a job, there's a "97 percent chance" that you're not going to be in poverty.

We found Census Bureau data from 2012 that found 2.9 percent of Americans between 18 and 64 who worked full-time, year-round in 2012 were in poverty.

However, we'll note there are people in the United States who have jobs, but not full-time, full-year jobs.

Among Americans age 18 to 64 who have part-time jobs, the poverty rate is 16.6 percent. And among all workers — Americans who have either a full- or a part-time job — the rate is 7.3 percent.

So a more accurate number for the likelihood of poverty "if you have a job" is 92.7 percent, or, rounding up, 93 percent. That's very close to 97 percent, but slightly off.

"While the percentages may vary slightly from one year to the next, independent sources make clear that your chances of living in poverty increase more than ten-fold if you don't have a steady, full-time job," said Matt McCullough, a spokesman for Southerland.

A final point: The census figures show that nearly 2.9 million people worked full time for the whole year yet still ended up below the poverty line. That may only be 2.9 percent of all full-time workers, but it's still a whole lot of people working, yet still ending up below the poverty line.

On balance, we rate his claim Mostly True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

Having a job does offer some immunity against poverty 01/17/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 5:19pm]
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