Fact of the Week: More than 60 Percent of American Adults Will Spend a Year in Relative Poverty


August 26, 2015

Think poverty only happens to other people? Think again. Nearly 62 percent of American adults will spend a year struggling in relative poverty, according to a recent report from Mark Rank, professor at Washington University, and Thomas Hirschl, professor at Cornell University. The report found that, between the ages of 25 and 60, 61.8 percent of Americans will experience a year below the 20th percentile of the income distribution, a measure they use to define relative poverty. They also found that just over 42 percent will experience a year below the 10th percentile, the measure used in the report to define extreme poverty.cumulative percent of American adults in relative poverty
Using these same definitions and data from 1968 through 2011, the study found that 25 percent of the population suffers through five or more years of relative poverty, and over 11 percent live through five or more years of extreme poverty. Those who are younger, nonwhite, female, not married, have less education, or have a disability are at greater odds of living in poverty or extreme poverty.cumulative years spent in relative poverty

These findings highlight even more the importance of human needs programs that serve Americans in their time of need and help raise individuals and families out of poverty. We should all be concerned that these programs are threatened by pending cuts known as sequestration. Housing vouchers and Head Start programs, for example, will face cuts unless sequestration is stopped, and safety net programs like SNAP/food stamps and Medicaid could be cut to increase spending in other areas. We need to #StopTheCuts and invest more in these programs – not less – to ensure they are there when we need them.

The report concludes that, “Relative poverty is an economic condition that will strike the majority of Americans.” In fact, Rank was quoted in a Newsweek article, “You’re Probably Going to Be Poor,” as saying,

“Poverty is often thought of as a ‘them’ issue. What these finding indicate is that poverty is an ‘us’ issues. It’s something that many of us, not just some, should be concerned about.”

If you’re concerned about poverty in America, make sure you join us on September 9 at 2pm ET for CHN’s webinar on the Census Bureau’s new poverty data being released on September 16 and 17.

You’ll hear from Jared Bernstein, former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser for Vice President Biden and the Obama White House, and now a prominent writer and commentator on economic issues, as well as CHN’s own Deborah Weinstein. You’ll learn how to get accurate information about your state and community – and how to use it to press for real solutions. We hope you’ll join us on the 9th

Budget and Appropriations
Census Bureau
Fact of the Week
Poverty and Income
relative poverty