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The working poor in South Africa

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Drs Michael Rogan and John Reynolds of the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) have undertaken ground-breaking work on the plight of South Africa’s working poor. Tracing working poverty trends from 1997 to 2012, their work shows that there has been a decline in the rate of working poverty over that period, particularly from 1999, but a flattening of that decline from 2006 onwards. In 2012, working poverty was still a significant problem, with more than a fifth of workers still living in households with a level of income which did not meet their minimum basic needs, and more than a third (36%) of workers living in households with a level of income that was just enough to meet their most basic needs. The data indicate that labour market changes have not added much to the effects of the expansion of the social grant system, and that the contribution of the labour market to human development is not reaching its potential. The persistence of both an unemployment crisis and an unacceptably high level of working poverty shows that South Africa does not just need jobs – it needs decent jobs.

The working paper in which this research is described can be downloaded at: . This research has generated much public interest, leading to the publication of a more popular article on The Conversation website and then on the Mail & Guardian Online and The Independent Online. The authors have also interacted with radio audiences on Radio 702 and RSG. The research was formally presented at a National Minimum Wage Research Initiative (NMW-RI) Seminar on Poverty, the Working Poor and the National Minimum Wage at the University of the Witwatersrand on 24 August 2015, and at the World Social Science Forum (WSSF) 2015 on 15 September 2015. A copy of the WSSF 2015 presentation can be downloaded here:The Working Poor in South Africa (WSSF 2015).