An unemployed mother gets groceries from a food bank
The U.S. Census Bureau announced that nearly one in six Americans are living in poverty—more than 46 million people, the highest number since the Bureau began publishing poverty data. Median household income dropped to its lowest level in 15 years, largely as a result of the recent recession and the disappointing economic recovery that has failed to help the country’s poorest citizens. (The median is the midpoint in a range, with equal numbers both above and below.) Looking back over the recent lack of economic progress, one Harvard economics professor called the last ten years “truly a lost decade. We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but . . . the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.” Joblessness is the key factor pushing more Americans into poverty, economists agree. The Census Bureau counted about 48 million people ages 18 to 64 who did not work even one week last year.
Younger Americans, particularly those without college degrees, saw their average incomes fall sharply. While the increase in poverty is affecting all groups of Americans, minorities have been hit the hardest, with African Americans experiencing the highest poverty rate at 27 percent and 26 percent of Hispanic Americans living below the poverty line. (In 2010, the poverty line for a family of four was $22,314.) More and more 25-to-34-year-olds have moved in with family or friends to make ends meet.
How does the Census Bureau define living in “poverty”? What does it mean to be “poor” in America? The Heritage Foundation released an in-depth study that looks beyond the focus on homelessness and hunger. It measures the scope and severity of material hardship in the United States and concludes the average poor person, by government definitions, has a standard of living much higher than most people imagine—in terms of possessions, housing conditions, and availability of food. The report challenges the Census reports as exaggerating current poverty and claims living conditions of poor Americans have improved significantly over time.
Image credit: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
- Behind the Poverty Numbers: Real Lives, Real Pain
Read accounts of and interviews with Americans struggling against poverty; this article includes a video titled “Face of Poverty Changing.”
(Source: Associated Press, September 19, 2011)
- Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on “Lost Decade”
Explore the recent spike in poverty in the United States and its chief underlying cause: persistent high unemployment amidst a faltering economic recovery.
(Source: New York Times, September 13, 2011)
- Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?
This online publication from a conservative think tank discusses U.S. government poverty statistics in terms of our constantly changing definition of what counts as poor; includes a wealth of statistics in graphic form.
(Source: The Heritage Foundation, July 19, 2011)
- The Geography of American Poverty Interactive Map
Examine this interactive Census map from August 2005 that shows poverty statistics across the nation with state-by-state rankings.
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)