Poverty Better and Worse Than You Think

According to Census Bureau data, about 15% of the U.S. population lived below the poverty level in 2012. The problem with that figure is that poverty isn’t static. People move in and out of poverty. Looked at another way, data on poverty gives us a different picture.

Looking at how many people live in poverty for at least two months over three years, we see that poverty affects many more Americans.

31.6 percent of Americans lived under the federal poverty level for at least two months between 2009-2011.

That’s one in three Americans according to Professor Stephen Pimpare (teaches at NYU and Columbia University) who references Census data in a piece published at TalkPoverty.org. This data tells us poverty affects more Americans than the basic single-year Census Bureau data indicates.

Conversely, when we look at the same data to see how many people were in poverty during all three years between 2009-2011, we see poverty is not as extensive as one might think when seeing the 15 percent number from the Census.

Only 3.5 percent of Americans lived under the federal poverty level all three years between 2009-2011.

As Mr. Pimpare says, “the chronic, persistent, generational poverty that features so prominently in political rhetoric and media coverage is very much the exception, rather than the rule.”

Mr. Pimpare also points to research done by Mark Rank at Washington University in St. Louis to show that  “more than 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will be poor for at least a year.  Over the same period, more than half will be poor or nearly poor, with income at 150 percent of the poverty line, or about $27,000 annually for a family of three.”

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