5 Shocking New Facts About Poverty in the US

man in poverty

A homeless man in poverty holds a cup as he panhandles for spare change in San Francisco, California | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Most of us complain once in a while about having too little money. Perhaps we can’t afford the vacation we want, or maybe we sometimes pay a bill late, or we’re even living paycheck-to-paycheck. Although many people will experience a tough financial situation or period, for most of us the situation is only temporary. Unfortunately for some people, poverty is a reality that can be very detrimental both financially and emotionally, and can be difficult to escape.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses set dollar value thresholds to determine who is in poverty, and these vary by family size; the family members are considered to be in poverty if the total money income is less than the applicable threshold. Poverty is a problem that often goes unseen for those who are not experiencing it, but there are new facts that are too shocking to ignore. Here are a few of them.

1. Poverty is more common than you think

According to the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2009 to 2012, 34.5% percent of the population had at least one period of poverty lasting at least two months or more. On the other hand, chronic poverty during this period was actually fairly rare: Only 2.7% of the population lived in poverty for all 48 months. Contrary to many common stereotypes about poverty, especially the idea that people who are poor are lazy or refuse to try to get out of poverty, the truth is that many of the people who experience poverty don’t stay in poverty for a long time.

2. Age does matter… but maybe not in the way you think

young boy sitting and hiding his face

Young boy | Source: iStock

About 13.5% of 18- to 64-year-olds were in poverty in 2014, and 10% of those aged 65 and over experienced poverty. Sadly, about 21% percent of children under 18 were in poverty (and they represented 23.3% of the total population and 33.3% of the people in poverty). These statistics are surprising because many people believe that retirees are more likely to be in poverty.

Also, there are many misconceptions about children in poverty. It’s devastating that so many children are in poverty, and it also debunks the fact that poor people deserve to be poor, or that they are lazy. Children often have no control over their situation, and the same can be true of their parents. Some studies have suggested that if anything, family composition in America is actually keeping child poverty down compared to some other countries.

3. Americans waste a ton of food

Initially, the amount of food that we waste doesn’t seem like a shocking poverty fact. However, in 2014, 14% of households were food insecure, and 3.7 million households were unable to provide adequate and nutritious food for their children during some times of the year. Households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line had significantly higher food insecurities than the national average.

At the same time, Americans waste a large amount of food each year. Each year, an estimated 70 billion pounds of food is wasted. In addition, research estimates that 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported will never be consumed.

4. Poverty affects more than just your wallet

stethoscope and money

Health care | Source: iStock

Obviously, if you don’t have enough money to survive, you risk going hungry. People in poverty also may not receive the medical care they need because they can’t afford to make routine doctor’s visits, or perhaps they can’t afford to eat well and that can also affect their health. Poverty can also affect health because poor people may need to live in environments where their health is affected. According to Gallup, those living in poverty are also more likely to be depressed (31% living in poverty say they have been diagnosed with depression in the past, compared to 15.8% of people who do not live within the poverty thresholds). Those living in poverty also have higher instances of asthma, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart attack.

5. You can make a difference

It’s hardly a new fact that you can make a difference in the world, and this is certainly true when it comes to fighting poverty. However, it’s a reminder that’s worth repeating because people forget, or they don’t think they can make a difference. Poverty isn’t just a problem caused or perpetuated by those who are poor; it’s caused by many different factors. According to the World Hunger Education Service, the three main causes include poverty in the world, the political and economic system in the U.S., and the individual issues that some poor people experience.

According to John D. Sutter (for CNN), we can help combat poverty by boosting housing subsidies, raising the minimum wage, investing in quality child care and preschool, and financially supporting poor families. Of course, these ideas won’t sit well with everyone. If they don’t work well for you, you can always try to come up with new ideas as well.

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