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The working poor makes up 8% of Swiss population. Without social benefits, this would be doubled

In an article for the Social Change in Switzerland series, Eric Crettaz describes the four mechanisms which lead to such a high number of working poor in Switzerland. Both income poverty and material deprivation are analysed with new data to demonstrate which social categories suffer the most. Distribution of benefits by the social welfare system halves the number of working poor.

Working poverty is a reality in Switzerland. Approximately 8% of households where at least one person works earn less than 60% of the average income. Without the range of existing social benefits, the rate of working poor in Switzerland would be 15%.

Eric Crettaz used the data from the 2015 SILC (Survey on Income and Living Conditions) to measure both income poverty and material deprivation. The rate of material deprivation is defined by households forgoing at least three commodities, such as taking holidays, being able to cover an unexpected expense, adequately heating the home, or owning a range of appliances.

The rate of material deprivation indicates an enduring difficult financial situation. In Switzerland, this is the case for 3% of households with members in gainful activity. This includes mainly people under 40, people with few qualifications, immigrants from outside Europe, and single-parent households. Couples with more than three children and independent workers represent a significant part of the population of working poor, but suffer less from material deprivation.

According to Eric Crettaz, this difference is explained by the four mechanisms which lead to working poverty: less work than the average household, low pay, a higher than average number of children per adult, and insufficient or no social benefits, particularly for ineligible households. As a result, single-parent families and migrants are more likely to suffer both income poverty and material deprivation because their vulnerability is due to an accumulation of factors.

>> Crettaz, E. (2018). La pauvreté laborieuse en Suisse : étendue et mécanismes / Working Poor in der Schweiz: Ausmass und Mechanismen. Social Change in Switzerland No 15. Retrieved from

Contact:  Eric Crettaz, +41 22 388 95 32,

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.