Poll: 80% Of Adults In U.S. Struggle With Poverty

The data comes via a poll released by the Associated Press over the weekend, which points to "the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend."

The economic indicator, officially dubbed "economic insecurity", defines the criteria as those adults who have experienced unemployment at any point during their careers, spent a year or more relying on government assistance such as food stamps, or having an income at least 150% below the poverty line. According to Huffington Post, "measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent." The study also marked a closing of gaps between whites and nonwhites with regard to poverty rates when compared to census data from the 1970s. It also showed:

"Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones."

The study also remarks on the creation of "the invisible poor", which is a term used to describe those living in suburbs or rural towns who fall into the category of experiencing "economic insecurity".

"Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America's heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains."

Help_graffitiThese invisible poor, who, more often than not, tend to be white, are less likely to be targeted by programs seeking to aid other impoverished groups in other, more urban areas. This could be one of the contributing factors to why racial gaps are closing. Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Huffington Post:

"Poverty is no longer an issue of `them', it's an issue of `us'…Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need."

Other noteworthy findings include:

  • "For the first time since 1975, the number of white single-mother households living in poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade, spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock births among whites. White single-mother families in poverty stood at nearly 1.5 million in 2011, comparable to the number for blacks. Hispanic single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million."
  • "Since 2000, the poverty rate among working-class whites has grown faster than among working-class nonwhites, rising 3 percentage points to 11 percent as the recession took a bigger toll among lower-wage workers. Still, poverty among working-class nonwhites remains higher, at 23 percent."
  • "The share of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods – those with poverty rates of 30 percent or more – has increased to 1 in 10, putting them at higher risk of teenage pregnancy or dropping out of school. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 17 percent of the child population in such neighborhoods, compared with 13 percent in 2000, even though the overall proportion of white children in the U.S. has been declining."
  • "The share of black children in high-poverty neighborhoods dropped from 43 percent to 37 percent, while the share of Latino children went from 38 percent to 39 percent."
  • "Race disparities in health and education have narrowed generally since the 1960s. While residential segregation remains high, a typical black person now lives in a nonmajority black neighborhood for the first time. Previous studies have shown that wealth is a greater predictor of standardized test scores than race; the test-score gap between rich and low-income students is now nearly double the gap between blacks and whites."

Thus, while the economy has reportedly finished its recession from late last decade, it does not appear to be growing fast enough to sustain the record 46.2 million people reportedly living in poverty. 


  1. Michael Worley says

    “experienced unemployment at any point during their careers”??

    Totally a bad indicator. My father was unemployed for a few months during the recession and now has a six-figure salary.

    I’d agree with 20-33%, but an assertion that it is 80% is insane.

  2. Randyowen says

    reading comprehension is lacking…

    the phrase from the definition of the criteria (2nd paragraph, 4th line on my screen) you all seem to have missed is “at any point during their careers”

    They also go on to explain that more, but given that the 80% is extremely possible. It is not saying that 80% of people are currently in poverty but that 80% of people have dealt with Poverty on a personal basis…

    Reading is so darn difficult ain’t it…

  3. James says

    @RANDYOWEN is correct. The title of this piece is very misleading, and the AP article is not doing anyone any favors by having the media take the information out of context.

  4. Seth says

    “experienced unemployment at any point during their careers”

    LOL. Is this a joke? That means that investment bankers and stock traders at Lehman Bros are included. It means that all the dot com millionaires who temporarily experienced unemployment back in 2000-2001 are included. It means that the athletic director at Rutgers, who got fired and collected a $1 million departure package is included.

    This is what trash social science looks like.

  5. Randyowen says

    @seth, Jesus keep reading after the end of the quotes it goes on to explain what else is involved in the decision, since those people did not go below the poverty level, or go on food stamps they would not be included. Not sure why i am so annoyed by this today, but really do people not read anymore?

  6. HIGHPARSON says

    white families are being affected this must be serious guys lets get on this problem quick

  7. Mike says

    Excuse me but while you twits argue about the meaning of this poll, the lines at the soup kitchen and food cupboard are growning to the point they are around the corner. Cleary, the poll is intended to measure whether economic insecurity is a common experience. Yes, a bond trader who is on UIB can experience economic insecurity. We can all be one paycheck away from disaster if we don’t prepare. It indeed is a bit of a shock to know how common — in the era of the Koch Bros. “revolution” against good working conditions, good pay, unions, etc — economic insecurity has become.

  8. anon says

    There are many definitions of poverty, but many of them are misleading. Income based definitions don’t take into account assets, unemployment is just a cipher for income. You also have to take into account things like fixed expense, including property taxes (taxes are rarely included in these surveys). Manufacturing jobs don’t always come with high pay, nor are they always low skill jobs. It’s all very messy.

  9. Seth says


    I don’t see anything in the article which indicates the 80% wouldn’t include wealthy investment bankers and stock traders and CEOs and lawyers and doctors who at any point in their careers experience unemployment.

    There is another measure, which is being on govt. assistance for a year or more, but that is not an additional requirement. You can EITHER have been unemployed at any time in your career OR have been on govt assistance. Either one will put you in the 80%. Obviously, a vast number of affluent and middle class people experience temporary unemployment at one time or another.

    Lumping all those millions of people in with those who are near the poverty line is ridiculous.

  10. RJ says

    @Seth… So what if dot.com millionaires, investment bankers or stock traders are included? You seriously think there are sufficient numbers of those individuals to skew the overall statistics?

  11. Isaak says

    I’m with Seth. You only had to tick one box of the criteria to be considered economically unstable. Not sure how that equals poverty? Maybe we should ask the people of the third world how rough Americans have it when their kids likely won’t reach 10 years old because they can’t even hope of getting food or vaccines for their families for simple things we take for granted, yet will take their children’s lives. Perspective anyone?

  12. Seth says

    “You seriously think there are sufficient numbers of those individuals to skew the overall statistics?”

    Yes, because it isn’t just stockbrokers but anyone and everyone who has ever experienced unemployment of any duration for any reason at any time in their careers. I’m surprised that the result is only 80%.

    The point is, why are the criteria set up to skew the results at all? If you genuinely want to get a measurement of economic insecurity, you don’t include a narrow criterion and a broad criterion that will capture tens of millions of middle class and affluent people.

    It’s like measuring for malnutrition by asking if anyone has ever 1) been treated by a doctor for malnutrition or 2) ever felt hungry. Thanks to criterion #2, your result will be that 100% of the population is malnourished.

  13. Hagatha says

    We are told that the students at a nearby elementary school are failing because it’s a school of poor children.

    I have to ask what the standard for poverty is. I know the government or social service agencies have a numerical income figure that they use, but what is the real measure of poverty?

    When I was a kid almost everyone I knew lived in a one bathroom house with no air conditioning. Their parents’ owned one car and if they owned two the second car was old. Neither car had air conditioning or an FM radio. We all had one black and white TV set and got three broadcast channels. There was a hi-fi that adults and older children were allowed to use. We swam at the Elks Club or at the lake or at the beach. No one had a backyard pool. We had a small cabin cruiser on the river.

    Now, by comparison the “poor people” who live in public housing and shop at the Walmart near here have 3 br two bath houses with air conditioning. They have flat screen color TV sets in multiple rooms and cable television. They go back and forth to Walmart in a Nissan Altima or Maxima with air conditioning, a loud stereo, and an iPhone in each ear.

    What is poverty in America? Not similar at all to the real poverty found in some South American and African countries. Count your blessings.

  14. John says

    These figures literally include Mitt Romney because once, during his youth when he had a six-figure investment portfolio that he inherited, he was unemployed and earning below the poverty line as he did missions for the Mormon church. It is insanity that the AP ever allowed this injustice to real poverty ever see the light of day.

  15. says

    The nonsense about the “marriage rate” needs to be rebutted. The marriage rate is the percentage of people over the age of 16 who are married. The percentage of people who marry in their lifetime is NOT in decline, but a lot of people are now waiting until their late 20s or early 30s to marry. Formerly they married in their late teens and early 20s.

    Because people are wisely waiting a bit longer before they marry, the rate of marriage, appears to decline even though most people will marry. See this excellent piece in the New York Times on marriage rates:


  16. millerbeach says

    Hagatha, you bring up an excellent point. Funny, my childhood seemed much happier than those of current children. We never had air conditioning! What do you think this place is, the movie palace? LOL We didn’t live in a house until I was 6, apartments during the struggling years of my parents careers. We had a lot less, but it seemed like a lot more. I never felt I went without, even though I did. My mother recently confessed guilt to me, I being the oldest, was there during the height of their struggle to get established. She was afraid I would be jealous of my younger brother, for whom they had much more money to spend than when I arrived. I was shocked! It never even entered my mind that my brother had more, but he did. But I never saw it…certainly not to the point of jealousy! I still chuckle over that one…mothers…what an invention! LOL I honestly feel sorry for today’s youth…they never got the chance to use their imagination.

  17. Carla DeVries says

    For anyone who thinks its not possible for 4 of 5 or 80% or whatever particular high level figure you may read about could be in such dire straits, you’ve obviously not encountered the real world.
    Why do you think they call some the “1%” and others the “99%?” People cannot live on what they are able to obtain, particularly the disabled, elderly or those who live alone.
    Not saying everything in any given article is true, but its a lot worse than many of you realize. Sure, some may have had one rather brief experience with downsizing etc. and may be doing well now, but that is by far the exception – especially if you’re over 40.
    By the way – that should be 150% of the poverty level not “below” the poverty level in the article. Housing should – according to statistical analysts – take only about 1/3 of gross monthly income. A great number of people are having to pay half or more. This is not due to the people’s carelessness or purposely trying to live beyond their means. It is due to the high price of housing – i.e. primarily greed not only on the part of those who own rental units or sell property but also to that of those who provide goods and services for those people. You can bet someone, somewhere is getting rich off someone else’s deprivation and pain.