U.S. poverty rate hits highest level in 17 years
The latest Census Bureau numbers on poverty in the U.S. probably don’t come as much of a surprise: Americans’ income has fallen, and more people, 46.2 million, are living below the official poverty threshold than at any time in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing poverty estimates. More than one in seven Americans is now officially poor, the highest rate since 1993.
Amidst the barrage of bleak economic news, these poverty figures caught my attention and raised my ire. How can it be that we are letting so many Americans fall behind? Why can’t we do better? If you haven’t read much about these stats, take a look at some of the details below.
Minorities and low-income Americans hit hardest
The greatest increases in poverty were among black and Hispanic Americans, about 27 percent of whom now live in poverty. As The New York Timesâ€™ infographic below shows, the number of black and Hispanic Americans living below the poverty line exceeds the combined populations of Michigan and Illinois. And Americans at the bottom of the income spectrum had the biggest drop in median income â€” for those in the bottom tenth, median income fell by 12 percent from 1999, while it dropped by just 1.5 percent for the top 90th percentile, according to The New York Timesâ€™ analysis. This compares to an overall drop in median income of 2.3 percent from 2009 and 7 percent from the peak in 1999.
Click on the image to view the infographic at full size:
What is “poverty”?
The official poverty line is $22,314 for a family of four and $11,139 for a single person (including Social Security and other cash benefits, but excluding non-cash benefits such as Medicare or housing assistance). Can you imagine trying to live on that in most parts of the U.S.?
The official poverty measure has been widely criticized for being an overly simplistic calculation that has not been updated since it was created in 1964. This fall, however, the bureau will release revised poverty figures based on a new Supplemental Poverty Measure that incorporates a more complex set of factors and is adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing. The Center for American Progress has an excellent summary of how the current poverty threshold is calculated, its flaws and efforts to update it.
Jolkona’s partners address poverty around the globe
Ameliorating poverty in the U.S. â€” and globally â€” is a complex, long-term endeavor. In the meantime, a number of Jolkona’s partners are helping individuals and communities improve their economic well-being in the near-term.
As a Jolkona intern this summer, I visited and wrote about Jubilee Women’s Center, a transitional housing program for homeless women, and Washington C.A.S.H., which gives low-income entrepreneurs the training and support to build successful businesses. I saw firsthand how these programs are helping people regain their self-sufficiency and increase their income.
You can see full the range of partner projects that address the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by using the filtering feature at the top of Jolkona’s project page.
Poverty isnâ€™t going away any time soon, but these projects are â€œdrops of waterâ€ that give the worldâ€™s most vulnerable citizens a chance for a better future.
Infographic credit: The New York Times, 2011