Poverty is the unrelenting daily task of trying to make ends meet. It is the daily stress and worry about whether the car will break down or someone will get ill or your child will need a new pair of shoes. And then having to choose between whether to pay the rent, pay for medicine or pay for food. Which necessity will have to be sacrificed to pay for the added expense of the unexpected bill? Poverty is the exhausting, unending, time-consuming struggle of juggling and just hoping to make ends meet with no end in sight. Poverty robs you of a sense of security and it destroys your self-esteem and your hope for the future. And it has the potential to be hereditary...
Last year alone, 2.6 million more Americans fell below the poverty line for a total of 46.2 million living in poverty or over 15% or 1 in 6, the highest number of poor in over 50 years. At 200% of the federal poverty level, the poverty rate in America would be 30%. It is the first time since the Depression that median household income did not go up. Today's families are in worse shape than they were in the 1990's and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Government programs and nonprofit agencies are keeping many families going. If these programs are cut or funding reduced, a large percentage of people already on the brink of complete financial disaster will be in dire straits.
Where does the United States rank internationally?
- 34% of all billionaires are Americans.
- Of the 19 OECD nations, the USA has the highest rate of income disparity and poverty other than Mexico and Turkey. UN Poverty Index: US ranks 17th out of 19 countries.
- According to the OECD, the U.S. poverty rate is the highest in the developed world.
American Myths on Poverty:
- Myth: America is the land of opportunity and if you work hard enough, you will succeed and move up the ladder of success. Truth: Only 35 % of poor children will be middle class as adults.
- Myth: Americans take care of their poor. Truth: Compared to other Western industrialized nations, we have one of the highest poverty rates and spend the least on social programs to help the poor.
- Myth: Poverty is something that happens to the lazy. Truth: Close to half of Americans will experience poverty in their lifetime.
- Myth: Poor people don't work. Truth: Two out three families in poverty have one or more employed.
American Poverty Statistics:
- The number of poor in America has risen for the past 4 years.
- US population 2011: 312,408,474
- 49 million—including 16.7 million children—are having trouble putting food on the table.
- 91.6 million (30% of the population) in poverty at 200% of the Federal Poverty Level—equal to the entire populations of California, Iowa, Texas, New York and Massachusetts combined.
- In 1950 the poverty rate was 22% or 39.5 million. 1973 = 11.1% or 23 million. 2000 =11.3 % or 31 million. 2005 = 12.6% or 37 million. 2008 = 13.2% or 39.8 million, 2011 = 15.1% or 46.2 million.
- Over one in six Americans live in poverty.
- Over half of Americans will live in poverty sometime during their lives.
- 48 million people between 18 and 64 did not work even one week. This is up from 45 million in 2009.
- In America, a family needs twice the federal poverty level to provide basic needs.
- More adult children are returning to live with their parents to save money.
- The suburban poverty rate is 11. 8%, the highest on record since 1967.
- Poverty rates among the elderly have risen 20%.
- Poverty in the US is cyclical with about 13-17% living below the FPL at any time.
- US poverty grew at twice the rate of US population growth.
- District of Columbia has the highest rate of poverty in the country
- Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota = 85 % poverty rate, life expectancy of 50, teenage suicide rate 8 times national average, infant mortality 5 times national average
- The US has the largest number of billionaires in the world: 413. One in three billionaires is American.
- Note that the census poverty figures do not take into account non-cash assistance such as food stamps, earned income tax credit nor does it take into account cost of housing, energy, nor medical costs.
American Children and Poverty:
US Income Disparity:
- United Nations findings:
"Some American cities are as unequal as African and Latin American cities. For example, New York was found to be the 9th most unequal in the world while Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya, Abidjan and Ivory Coast."
- Income gap is the widest in 70 years. Boston Globe 2/21/10:
"With striking consistency, the severity of social decay…reflects a key difference among them, not the number of poor or depth of poverty, but the size of the gap between richest and poorest."
- Share of income of the top 1% has increased while for the poor it has decreased 40%.
- 1979 top executives earned 27 times the average worker's salary. In 2008, 275 times.
- Economic incentive structure of "trickle down" has caused a "flood up" of resources from the poor to the rich.
- Despite the US being the land of equal opportunity, the US ranks at the low end of social mobility.
- Once nations are industrialized, more equal societies almost always do better in terms of health, well-being and social cohesion
- Large income inequalities within societies destroy the social fabric and quality of life for everyone:
- Health is related to income differences within rich societies, not between them
- Health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries
- Child well-being is better in more equal rich countries
- The prevalence of mental illness is higher in more unequal rich countries
- Drug use is more common in more unequal countries
- Life expectancy is longer in more equal rich countries
- Infant mortality rates are higher in more unequal countries
- More adults are obese in more unequal rich countries
- Educational scores are higher in more equal rich countries
- Teenage birth rates are higher in more unequal rich countries
- Homicide rates are higher in more unequal rich countries
- Children experience more conflict in more unequal societies
- Rates of imprisonment are higher in more unequal societies
- Social mobility is higher in more equal rich countries
- More equal countries rank better on recycling
- United For a Fair Economy:
"In 1989, the United States had 66 billionaires and 31.5 million people living below the official poverty line. A decade later, the United States has 268 billionaires and 34.5 million people living below the poverty line-about $13,000 for a three-person family."
- The Equality Trust (12/7/09)
"It looks as if the American Dream is far more likely to remain a dream for Americans than it is for people living in Scandinavian countries. While income differences have widened in Britain and the USA, social mobility has slowed."
Housing and Homelessness:
Housing: due to the high cost of housing, it is extremely difficult for the poor and lower middle class to afford housing. Low income housing groups the poor; reduces opportunity for diverse economically diverse socialization; stigmatizes the residents; has limited neighborhood amenities; and is economic segregation that can be a source of social rejection for children.
Why the increase in homelessness:
- Incomes of low-wage workers have been static or declining, even in recent good years.
- Fewer people on welfare, but that doesn't mean they earn enough to afford rent.
- Home values and rents have risen.
- Affordable housing has not kept up with population growth.
- In fact, millions of "low-rent units" have disappeared since the 1970s, either abandoned or converted into higher-end housing.
- 40 hours at minimum wage does not cover rent at fair market rent—median-income renter would need to spend more than half (51 percent) of his or her income to rent the average-priced rental unit.
In 2008, foreclosure deeds of more than 12,500 (4 times higher than in 2006), added to the more than 4,000 families who had lost their homes the previous year. Foreclosures affect renters with multifamily properties represented 34% of the properties. In 2010 a record 1 million homes were foreclosed. As of January 2011, 5 million homeowners are at least 2 months behind in making their mortgage payments and in June 8% of US mortgages were at least 30 days late.
"It would take lenders 62 years at their current pace, the longest time frame in the nation, to repossess the 213,000 houses now in severe default or foreclosure." (from here.)
- 7.6 million homes foreclosed so far.
- The projected annual cost savings to the Commonwealth per housed tenant is $8,948.52 compared to shelters. In 2006 $238M in MA state dollars was spent on managing homelessness. Average cost of shelter by type: Transitional $11,550; Episodic $21,450; Long term $48,440.
- According to research conducted by the University of Massachusetts' Center on Social Policy, an estimated 28,000 unaccompanied individuals stay in emergency shelter in a given year.
- In 2003, the average age of shelter guests was 41 years.
- 9% of those served were between the ages of 18 and 24 yrs.
- Elders represented one of the fastest growing populations, representing 14% of the emergency shelter population in 2003; up from 8% in 1999.
- 70% of the shelter guests in 2003 had high school education or higher.
- A significant portion of the population was working, but their average income of was only $970/month.
- Approximately 25% were struggling with mental health issues, and 30% with substance abuse.
- 40% of the male homeless population are veterans
- Foster children are 8 times more likely to be homeless in their lifetime.
- 52% of homeless in MA are parents and children—higher than the national average.
- Oct. 2006, more than 1,400 families (3,000 children) were in emergency state shelters each night.
Characteristics of the average homeless family:
- The average age for the head of household is 31 years and the average family size consisted of a mom and 2 children.
- 54% of the parents had at least a high school degree/GED or higher.
- These families were very low income—the average income for all families was only $573/month
- Working families fared better, but still were subsisting on only $1,232/month.
- Families remained in shelters on average for 6 months in 2006 (longer today)
- Housing subsidies and low-income housing only help a small percentage of eligible families due to inadequate funding.
- 2009 March: There are 17,505 homeless children in Massachusetts.
- 2009 March: 18% of homeless children in Massachusetts reported moderate to severe health conditions, as opposed to only 8.5% of middle-income children in Massachusetts.
- Family emergency shelter system have families in state-funded motels without access to kitchen facilities and with limited access to supports and limited ability to meet other basic family needs, while they wait for a room in a shelter to open up.
- Compared with both middle-class and poor housed peers, young homeless children experience more developmental delays, emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, and behavioral issues.
- Homeless Children are set back academically on average 4-6 months with each change of school.
Food Insecurity and Hunger:
- Children in marginally food secure households, who are traditionally counted by the government as food secure, are at serious risk of health and developmental problems.
- Many of the 2.6 million children under the age of five living in marginally food-secure households are not receiving needed nutritional support through WIC.
- Even in kindergarten, children in households with signs of marginal food security score lower and learn less during the school year.
- 21% of households with children experience food insecurity.
- Food stamp use in 2011 is up by 12% from a year ago and 34% from 2 years ago: 45.8 million people.
- In November 2009, SNAP/Food Stamp participation broke records with a record 38,183,668 people, an increase of 245,636 individuals from October 2009, the prior record level, and an increase of more than 7 million people compared with the prior November.
- The number of people participating in SNAP/Food Stamps in November 2009 was approximately 21.4 million more persons than in July 2000, when program participation nationally reached its lowest point in the last decade (16.8 million individuals).
- Research suggests that one in three eligible people are not receiving food stamp benefits.
- Of the people aged 60 plus who were eligible for food stamps in 2006, only 34.5% received them.
- A staggering 80 percent of schools still serve lunches with more than the recommended amount of saturated fat, and 42 percent don't offer kids fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
- 46% of food pantry users routinely chose between paying for food or paying for heat.
- According to the UN Poverty Index, the US has 20% of its population without functional literacy skills.
- Education at a Glance, OECD states
"Richer nations, especially in Europe, face a growing lack of ambition among their children, fed partly by social inequality that schools have failed to redress... More than a quarter of 15-year-olds in the United States…performed at or below the lowest levels on math—and students from poor families were 3.5 times more likely to do badly... Adults who do not finish high school in the United States earn 65 percent of what people make if they do finish high school. No other country had such a severe income gap."
- Michael Gorman, President, American Library Association, article Washington Post, 12/25/2005:
"Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That's not saying much for the remainder".
- The U.S. government spends more per student from elementary school through college—U.S.$12,023—than all other OECD countries except Switzerland.
- The OECD found that 15-year-olds in this country are below average compared with their peers in Europe and Asia when it comes to applying math skills to real-life situations.
- OECD's report on US education: growing number are not learning basic skills while in school.
- "Disparities in Early Learning and Development: Lessons from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort," looked at disparities by family income. Found infants and toddlers from low-income families scored lower on a cognitive assessment than infants and toddlers from higher-income families, were less likely to be in excellent or very good health, and were less likely to receive positive behavior ratings.
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