When we talk about social issues in the United States, we often avoid poverty. When we do discuss poverty, it is typically from a global perspective. On a relative basis, poverty in the U.S. is often downplayed. In fact, if we moved our lowest wage earners to other poor countries, they would be considered wealthy. Maybe this is why we don’t talk much about the issue in our own country.
However, the problem is both real and significant—and it is systemic. In 2014 the United States had over 47 million people who were living in poverty; that is a rate of 15% of the population of the wealthiest nation in the world. That poverty rate is 2.3% higher than 2007, which implies that, despite a seven-year economic expansion, poverty in the U.S. is increasing.
The rate of poverty differs by age and ethnicity group. According to PovertyUSA.org, 15.5 million children—about 21% of all children—live in poverty. The official rate for seniors on the other hand is 10%. The highest poverty rate by race is found among Blacks (26%), with Hispanics (of any race) having the second highest poverty rate (24%). Whites had a poverty rate of (10%), while Asians had a poverty rate at (12%).
Poverty thresholds are determined by the US government, and vary according to the size of a family, and ages of the members. In 2014, the poverty threshold—known as the poverty line—for an individual was $12,000 annually. For four people, the weighted average threshold is $24,000. Worse, 7% of the population—or 21 million people—live in deep poverty, with incomes at only 50% of their poverty thresholds. And 33% of the population—or 105 million—live close to poverty, with incomes less than two times that of their poverty thresholds.
Any look at poverty numbers, would need to include employment numbers. 2016 employment numbers are in: 34% of adults are not working, 31% of Single moms, 29% of adults without a high school diploma – 29% of adults with a disability – 26% of Black Americans – 24% of Hispanic Americans – 24% of foreign born non-citizens – 21% of children under age 18, 10% of Seniors. However, only 6% of married couples and 5% of adults with college degrees live in poverty.
There is a snowball effect for those living in poverty. Housing requires a job. Jobs require education, daycare, appropriate clothing and transportation. The effects of—and the solutions to—poverty are interdependent.