WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even before the collapse of major U.S. banks and the Dow's plunge, the rolls of America's working poor grew as their piece of the U.S. economic pie shrank, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The percentage of working families who were poor rose to 28 percent in 2006, from 27 percent in 2002, the Working Poor Families Project said in a report based on government data collected as part of the American Family Survey.
"If we start factoring in what's happened this year, we know the number will increase," said Brandon Roberts, an author of "Working Hard, Still Falling Short."
The report found that 9.6 million working families were poor in 2006, up from 9.2 million in 2002, the report said. "One-third of all (U.S.) children reside in low-income working families," said Roberts.
By 2008 standards, the report defined working poor as a family of four living on less than $42,400 in the 48 contiguous states, or slightly more in Alaska and Hawaii.
Income inequality grew over the period of the study, as janitors, cashiers, construction workers and nannies saw their portion of U.S. income decrease, compared to the richest workers, the report found.
"The fact that it's (the number of poor families) gone up 350,000 from 2002 to 2006 during what were good economic times, some claim robust economic times, is pretty surprising and it's very revealing about the bifurcation of the economy," said Roberts.
Twenty percent of working white families were low-income, while 41 percent of minority families were low-income, figures that were stable compared to 2002, the report said.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman