I’m not a numbers guy. As most of you know, I get my ideas across through words However, with this particular issue of Happy Friday, my brain has never felt so much pain as I sifted through data upon data to learn more about poverty in America. After finishing this post I felt almost as joyous as when I walked out of the last math class I ever had to endure. To condense the current crisis of poverty in America in less than 1,000 words was tough, but to fully grasp the issue it was certainly necessary. Plus, those of you on the East Coast sound like you will have a little more time for reading the next few days with Winter Storm Jonas rolling through. Stay safe out there!
This is the second of twenty-four posts for 2016, and my goal for this year is to create a balance between improving our own happiness, while also staying conscious of glaring social issues. For those of you have been on the blog for the past few years, you know I write a lot about homelessness. Ever since I moved to California I have been intrigued by this epidemic. Moving forward, I wanted to get deeper than just homelessness, since homelessness is a byproduct of poverty. Therefore, poverty will be a central focus for 2016. Similar to when you study a certain trend and attempt to come up with a solution, one must first identify ‘what is this trend?’ From there the questions become ‘who does this impact?’ Why is it rampant in more places than others? Most importantly, how can we alleviate or lessen the burden of those affected by this? That last part is, and most likely will be, a question that will continue to plague our government since the answer is anything but simple. With that in mind, if we can learn more on this glaring issue, and establish empathy towards those who live in poverty, then maybe we can begin to make an impact for those in our surrounding communities.
For most of us who live in California, or Pennsylvania and New Jersey, we see poverty (which is defined as being ‘extremely poor’) regularly. We see it getting on and off the freeway, on street corners, or on the boardwalks by the beach. We may become desensitized to the homeless based off of the sheer amount of times we encounter them each day. That’s natural. However, poverty affects more than just the homeless. According to The Census Bureau, “nearly 50 million people—about one in six Americans (16.1%)—live in poverty, defined as income below $23,021 a year for a family of four.” The fact that this many Americans live in poverty is startling. To get a more detailed understanding of how poverty impacts America, the award winning website Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity provides a state-by-state breakdown. I’ve included links for California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, since that is where most of the people on the email chain reside.
With knowledge of the percentage of people impacted by poverty, I wondered which areas in the country have the highest poverty rates, while also focusing on the ethnicity of those affected. (Disclaimer: The Congressional Research Service published all of the data presented here in 2015, with additional information coming from The Census Bureau.) The statistics concerning areas of poverty were not too shocking. The Northeast (12.7%) and Midwest (12.9%) had the two lowest poverty rates, while the West (14.7%) and South (16.1%) came in with the highest. On top of that, central city areas had a remarkably higher rate of poverty (19.1%) compared to the suburban areas, whose poverty rate was (11.1%).
In terms of ethnicity, the following data breaks down the people poverty impacts. The Congressional Research service states that:
Poverty among African Americans and Hispanics exceeds that of whites by several times. In 2013, 27.2% of blacks (11.0 million) and 23.5% of Hispanics (12.7 million) had incomes below poverty, compared to 9.6% of non-Hispanic whites (18.8 million) and 10.5% of Asians (1.8 million). Although blacks represent only 13% of the total population, they make 24.4% of the poor population; Hispanics, who represent 17.3% of the population, account for 28.1% of the poor.”
What the data shows is that African Americans and Hispanics, who account for over 30% of the population, represent about 52% of poverty among Americans. Not coincidentally, the education that African Americans and Hispanics receive is substantially worse than their Caucasian and Asian counterparts. This was documented in an article I wrote a few months ago on the [Re]Segregation of the Education System. I could further the point of the powerful role education plays in poverty, but for the sake of my brain, and your time, I will give you the link and if you are interested you can further explore this troubling trend.
This post was loaded with facts, but in order to fully understand not only what poverty is, but also where it resides and who it impacts, there was no way around it. Unlike other countries, America is certainly not in immediate crisis in terms of poverty, but this is where we live, and on a daily basis we see people impacted by this problem. On the other hand, if you don’t see many people impacted by this, consider yourself lucky. That means you most likely do not live in a region affected by this.
As I write this, I sit in a fully furnished apartment in Southern California. An empty dish from dinner is in reach. Not everyone is as lucky. I look out the window and know that less than a quarter mile away there are people hungry, homeless, and for some, helpless. I’ll take some food out there, and have a conversation if they wish to talk. Who knows if I’m helping or enabling. Altruism and compassion, I tell myself. Poverty is not an easy problem to tackle.