Understanding Poverty in the United States

 I just read today’s Sunday paper, and it sparked more discussion than usual in my family. The myths, exaggerations, misconceptions, and misuse of statistics is infuriating and serves nobody well (except perhaps “the media” itself, though only in the short term).

I ran across this illustrative post last week.  What does it really mean to be poor in America?

Understanding Poverty in the United States: Poverty USA
Today, the Census Bureau released its annual poverty report, which declared that a record 46.2 million persons, or roughly one in seven Americans, were poor in 2010. The numbers were up sharply from the previous year’s total of 43.6 million. Although the current recession has increased the numbers of the poor, high levels of poverty predate the recession. In most years for the past two decades, the Census Bureau has declared that at least 35 million Americans lived in poverty.

However, understanding poverty in America requires looking behind these numbers at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests near destitution: an inability to provide nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter for one’s family. However, only a small number of the 46 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.

So, “poverty” suggests near destitution (and certain groups are getting as much political and alarmist mileage as possible out of that suggestion), but what does it really mean?  Click through the article to see.

What really gets my goat is when “they” take a statistic (1 in 15 Americans) and illustrate it with an outlying example, then trumpet about as if the  entire named group is comprised of people just like the example.  The “I am the 99%” photos going around Facebook are a good example.  Most of them are NOT the 99% – they are the most unfortunate 0.05% of the 99%.  They are part of the 99%, but certainly are not the most accurate characterization of that group.

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