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Poverty Statistics

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The divide between the affluent and average working American families—let's not forget that the majority of poor families have at least one worker—is most clear when it comes to assets. The richest 5 percent of American households control nearly 60 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 40 percent have less than a percent. What's more, low- and middle-income families are increasingly saddled with debt. Given an inability to make ends meet, not to mention the spiraling cost of housing, millions of Americans are literally mortgaging their futures.

For starters, they can't agree on the nature and depth of poverty in the United States. Using the federal government's official poverty measure—which is about $16,000 annually for a family of three and $19,000 for a family of four—17 percent of the nation's children are living in poor families. That's 12 million children, and the number is increasing.

Perhaps most stunning is that 7 percent of children—5 million—live in families with incomes of less than half the poverty level. That's a paltry sum—less than $8,000 for a family of three and $9,600 for a family of four.

These are the official statistics. But just about everyone agrees that the feds' current measure is woefully out of date. We measure poverty by a standard set more than 40 years ago. Data collected in the 1950s indicated that families spent about one-third of their income on food. Poverty is still measured by multiplying the cost of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "economy food plan" by three.

Our national poverty figures obscure dramatic variation by place and race. In New Hampshire, 7 percent of children are poor, whereas in Arkansas, the figure is 25 percent. About 10 percent of white children live in poverty, while roughly 30 percent of African-American and Latino children do. Before Katrina, 38 percent of children in New Orleans were poor.


What is Poverty in America?

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Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factcouraud. (2007, May 22). Poverty Statistics. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License