The Intersection of Low-Wage Work and Public Assistance: Workers’ Experiences in Minnesota

Policy discussions about public assistance programs often concentrate on how to move people off assistance and into work, but data show that most people applying for assistance are low-wage workers who turn to assistance programs either when they are between jobs or to supplement wages while working. Understanding the nature of low-wage jobs, the reasons workers lose or leave work, and workers’ strategies for getting by on low and fluctuating incomes is important for understanding how these factors shape worker’s outcomes and what is needed to improve outcomes. This study offers insights on these issues through interviews and focus groups in two Minnesota communities (Saint Paul and Detroit Lakes) with 40 workers who recently separated from low-wage jobs, including many workers who had received or were participating in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) cash assistance, unemployment insurance, and/or other public support programs.