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A Picture of Poverty in America

A Picture of Poverty in America

Merriam-Webster defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. Given this honest, simple definition, it seems poverty could easily be solved. So why does it still exist in the USA, a country with an abundance of resources?  

I know I’m not the first (or last) to ask that question, but as a human being who coexists with all humanity, I lean to the philosophy that says, “For as much is given, much is required.” In other words, I am focused on what I can do to help, and writing and sharing this blog is something I’m compelled to do. 

January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month, an initiative to raise awareness and call attention to the growth of poverty in our country. This blog is not written to provide solutions but rather help build awareness of the poverty epidemic that exists and the challenges it poses to our fellow Americans. Solutions are beyond simple in scope.  

The four types of poverty

To give some context, there must be a basic of understanding of the four types of poverty:   

  1. Absolute poverty is easier to recognize due to its expansive characteristics. It is based on lack of financial resources, which leads to deficits in nutrition, safe dwellings, drinking water, and healthcare.  
  2. Relative poverty is where most people who live in poverty find themselves. Even though they have access to water, food, and shelter, their income levels require that they focus all their energy and time on maintaining water, food, and shelter.  
  3. Situational poverty occurs when life events cause havoc in monetary savings due to financial hardships, such as illness, death, divorce, and unplanned pregnancy. Although situational poverty can have characteristics like relative poverty, the difference is whether there is a light at the end of the tunnel. People who find themselves in situational poverty can be at a crossroads between an exit out of poverty or the long-lasting implications of relative poverty.  
  4. Generational poverty is poverty that impacts people in families across two or more generations.  

What causes poverty?  

Poverty strikes Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds, from Black to White, Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnicities, and it is caused by varying factors. Hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, homelessness, social discrimination and exclusion, disabilities, restricted access to participation in the democratic process … these are just a few causes and manifestations of poverty.  

Today, almost 700 million people around the world live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $2.15 a day, the extreme poverty line. Here is a more comprehensive list of causes:  

  1. Lack of good jobs/job growth (under employed)  
  2. Lack of good education (formal or informal)  
  3. Warfare/conflict – instability of safety  
  4. Weather/climate change – tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, and other events 
  5. Social injustice or inequality and marginalization  
  6. Lack of means to obtain food and water  
  7. Lack of infrastructure  
  8. Lack of government support   

The importance of nutrition: Children are more than twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty. Child poverty is widely recognized in causing child stunting, which occurs when a child does not receive adequate nutrition from womb to puberty. As adults, these individuals earn 22% less than those who were not stunted in their development.  

The importance of education: Many researchers have studied the cycles and social psychology of poverty. One is Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D., who researched the culture of poverty in relation to education. An educator-turned-bestselling author best known for her book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” she believes relative and generational poverty exist due to lack of knowledge and understanding of the hidden rules that keep classes separated and poverty isolated. She asserts that children growing up in a culture of poverty don’t succeed because they have been taught the “hidden rules of poverty,” but not the hidden rules of being middle class, and further, that the lack of social and educational opportunity limits their ability to leave the mindset of poverty and its cultural impacts behind.  

Startling statistics on poverty in America 

Here are some facts about poverty in the USA based on 2022 census data and other resources:   

  • 50% of children under 18 in the United States (10.8 million) live below the federal poverty line.  
  • More than 50% of public-school students are designated as low-income.  
  • 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that 37.2 million people in the United States were living in poverty, and it is increasing. In their latest report in 2022, the poverty rate impacts 37.9 million people.  
  • The top 10 states with the highest poverty rates are (1) Mississippi –  19.1%; (2) Louisiana – 18.6%; (3) West Virginia – 17.9%; (4) New Mexico – 17.6%; (5) Arkansas – 16.8%; (6) Kentucky – 16.5%; (7) Alabama – 16.2%; (8) Oklahoma – 15.7%; (9) New York – 14.3%; and (10) Texas – 14%.  

The federal government defines the poverty threshold based on household size and income. In 2022, a family of four was considered impoverished (relative poverty) if income was $29,678 and below. Poverty rates change and fluctuate due to inflation, the cost of living in different areas of the country, and other factors, such as unemployment and economic turbulence, and events, such as the pandemic, which caused unemployment rates to soar until the pandemic subsided. 

How is it that we are experiencing record-low unemployment rates while continuing to grow in poverty rates? The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stated that due to current patterns and trends, by the year 2030, poverty rates will continue to increase by increments of 10% due to the majority of people spending 30% of their income on housing. Data has helped the federal government focus on decreasing that number to 25.5%, giving impacted Americans an almost 5% increase in discretionary funds.  

But this is not enough!  

Choose to make a difference  

So far, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of how and why poverty impacts people from childhood to adulthood in the United States and elsewhere. I hope you will join me this month and learn more about this challenge in our country. There are things we can all do to help reverse the growing trend.  

For example, on behalf of the talent recruiting partners and our extensive support team at Goodwin Recruiting, we donated to Feeding America, an organization that fights hunger across the nation. Every dollar makes a positive impact in someone’s life. If you or your organization can do the same, here is a link to their donation page: Feeding America  

My partners and I at Goodwin Recruiting work every day to change peoples’ lives for the better while helping organizations find top talent for their teams. We also strive to work with clients and industries to help talented but under-employed people find meaningful opportunities and who are mutually beneficial for the companies that hire them.  

I welcome you to contact me for support in fulfilling your hiring needs or in finding the best job opportunities for the next step in your career.