Workers on low incomes disadvantaged in terms of job quality

Labour market marginalisation as a result of low incomes and poor job quality is becoming a serious problem in the Czech Republic. This is in spite of the fact that the proportion of people who fall into the category of the ‘working poor’ is relatively low. These are among the findings of a research project entitled ‘Social exclusion and social policies’, which was conducted in 2004–2005 and which examines the job quality of people on low incomes.


The issue of the ‘working poor’ is not considered a serious problem in the Czech Republic at present. According to estimates, between 2% and 3% of the Czech population fall into the category of the so-called working poor. Similarly, the extent of objective income poverty is not considered critical and does not exceed 7%–8% of the population. Against this background, the country’s welfare system appears to have been relatively effective in eliminating the risk of poverty. A different picture emerges, however, when measuring subjective income and material deprivation. According to various indicators, the extent of subjective income and material deprivation seems to be double that of objective income poverty in the Czech Republic. In this case, subjective income and material deprivation refers to those people who are entitled to welfare benefits but who do not make a claim or only think of making a claim, while objective income poverty refers to those persons actually receiving these benefits.

Study findings

A research project entitled ‘Social exclusion and social policy’ applied criteria measuring both subjective and objective income disadvantage, as opposed to only measuring either objective income poverty or subjective material deprivation. The study found that a significant proportion of the population having low incomes, namely 55%, are in employment; this is in comparison with 45% of the same population who are either unemployed or inactive.

The study addressed the key issue of job quality among workers who were either welfare benefit recipients in 2004 or who perceived their situation to be comparable to that of welfare recipients; this group of people is considered to be ‘income disadvantaged’.


Fieldwork for the study, which was backed by the Faculty of Social Studies (Facultas Studiorum Socialium) at Masaryk University in Brno, took place at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005. The deliberate quota-type sampling was used. The sample of respondents represents ‘basic’ types of people within the low-income group, defined according to their socioeconomic status. The survey is not representative.

The ‘subjective’ criterion was included in order to also cover people who are entitled to benefits but who never use them. The research sample consisted of both unemployed and employed people. However, the focus here is largely on the results for the employed population.

Job quality

As already outlined, a relatively high proportion of people (55%) who are income disadvantaged are, in fact, employed. In terms of the job quality of these workers, the study reveals that people in this category are most frequently employed in the ‘secondary labour market’. The latter market is distinguished by the following job characteristics:

  • low qualification requirements;
  • job insecurity;
  • non-standard forms of employment, such as temporary contracts or the absence of a formal employment contract;
  • low wages;
  • little protection for the workers by way of collective agreements.

Indicators measuring quality of employment confirm that people who are income disadvantaged generally do not have the opportunities to advance their careers nor the possibility to receive training in their jobs (see Figure). About half of them claim that they often feel exhausted from their work and that their job fails to provide them with a good source of income. About two fifths of the employees reported a lack of job security.

The study found that the situation appears to be even more problematic for people in temporary employment, who are either employed on a temporary contract or who have no formal work contract whatsoever. People in this category showed the lowest levels of job quality in terms of income and possibilities for advancement and training, even compared with the group of unemployed people who described their previous job. The most significant difference between employed and unemployed people who are income disadvantaged is, thus, mainly in relation to job security rather than job quality.

Job quality of people who are disadvantaged due to low income, by type of employment (%)

Job quality of people who are disadvantaged due to low income, by type of employment (%)


Notes: Respondents answered the question: 'Does your job provide/give you opportunities?' The graph analyses the answers of those who replied (absolutely) 'yes'; population sample N=2,225

Source: Social exclusion survey, 2004-2005

Labour market strategies

For the majority of people who are disadvantaged due to a low income, few opportunities exist to obtain a better quality job. The authors of the study outlined three different types of labour market strategies employed by people in this category.

A small proportion of people who are income disadvantaged prefer to continue in their job despite the poor quality, as they appreciate the stability and certainty it provides. Another strategy, covering the majority of people in this category, is to alternate between unemployment and temporary or less stable jobs of poorer quality. The motivation to seek employment may be related to the need to secure an income or the hope of obtaining a more permanent job. The third type of strategy leads to long-term unemployment and is motivated by a sense of hopelessness in terms of ever obtaining a stable, quality job and by a negative assessment of the potential benefits and wages that can be obtained from employment.

References and further information

Syrovátka, T. and Mareš, P., ‘Poverty, deprivation and social exclusion: The unemployed and the working poor – Abstract (76Kb PDF)’, Czech Sociological Review, Vol. 42, No. 4, 2006.

For information at European level, see the Foundation report Working poor in the European Union, which covers issues such as definitions of the working poor, the incidence and characteristics of the working poor and related subgroups, as well as examining the various policy responses aimed at alleviating or combating working poverty.

Lenka Dokulilova, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (VÚPSV)

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