Special Report

Poverty in America

Poverty might mean different things in different parts of the world and to different people, but it is largely defined as being unable to afford a minimum standard of living. The United States has come a long way in addressing the problem, but progress seems to have slowed despite the recent years of economic recovery.

In many ways, the problem has even escalated. Though the economy has added millions of jobs since the recession ended, many of the jobs created are not the same as jobs that were lost. In many areas, the problem of poverty has worsened during the recovery.

Poverty is perhaps the most persistent of problems, with consequences that can span a lifetime, be transferred across generations, and loom in the minds of individuals and families living at the edge of poverty.

Click here to see how poverty is measured.
Click here to see alternative measures of poverty.
Click here to see root causes of poverty.
Click here to see who lives in poverty.
Click here to see what it means to live in poverty.
Click here to see solutions.

Most people, in one way or another, are familiar with poverty or the concept of poverty. From the nation’s largely uncounted homeless population to unemployed Americans looking for work to low-wage service industry workers to single parents working multiple jobs, for millions Americans, poverty is a daily struggle that often results in deprivation and requires sacrifice. Though the United States was built on the doctrine that financial status is the result of personal merit, religious teachings encourage helping the poor and the work of alleviating poverty has become woven into the fabric of U.S. society.

Poverty extends to practically all aspects of U.S. society, and yet, despite the many anti-poverty policies, it remains largely unaddressed. It is also relatively undiscussed in public discourse and incompletely understood by the public and academics alike.

A study published in July 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE found that 60% of people will experience at least 1 year of poverty in their lifetimes. The Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey found that nearly 40% of non-elderly adults report difficulty meeting basic needs such as food, health care, housing, and utilities.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s long-standing official poverty measure created in 1963 currently helps determine eligibility for 82 federal programs. Research has shown the benefits of these programs are greater than was previously thought, especially for elderly Americans and children. Despite the effectiveness of these programs, however, the official poverty rate is widely believed to grossly underestimate the true level of economic deprivation in the United States.

Regular discussions about poverty are largely brushed aside in an age where the media is dominated by partisan politics, entertainment, sports, and daily news. Media outlets and publications devote entire business sections to what people running big companies do. Every day, countless hours and pages of information focus on gossip about celebrities and wealthy sports figures. There is virtually no regular coverage of America’s poor.

24/7 Wall St. analyzed data from government and private sources, interviewed experts, and studied the latest research examining the problem. We have endeavored to connect the dots in a gallery of 17 charts covering various aspects of poverty in America.

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