Who Are the Poor?

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Chapter 2
Who Are the Poor?

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POOR

In 2005 almost thirty-seven million people in the United States, or 12.6% of the population, were poor. (See Table 2.1.) Another 4.2% had income-to-poverty ratios between 1 and 1.25, meaning that 16.8% of the U.S. population was poor or near-poor.

Race and Ethnicity

Historically, poverty rates have been consistently lower for whites than for minorities in the United States. According to the Census Bureau in Poverty in the United States: 2000 (September 2001, http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p60-214.pdf), in 1959, 18.1% of all whites, or 28.5 million people, lived below the poverty level; in the same year, 55.1% of African-Americans, or 9.9 million people, lived in poverty. By 1970 the rate of poverty of white Americans had declined to 9.9%, about where it remained for the next ten years. The poverty rate for African-Americans was still almost triple that of whites in 1970, at 33.5%. By 2000, a year in which the U.S. economy was strong, only 9.4% of whites lived in poverty, whereas over one-fifth (22.1%) of all African-Americans did.

In 2005 African-Americans and Hispanics continued to be disproportionately affected by poverty. In 2005, 8.3% of non-Hispanic whites were poor, compared with 24.9% of African-Americans and 21.8% of Hispanics. (See Table 2.1.) Even more African-American and Hispanic children suffered from poverty. Over one-third (33.5%) of African-Americans under the age of eighteen and 28.3% of Hispanics under the age of eighteen were poor, compared with only 14.4% of white children in the same age group. (See Table 1.3 in Chapter 1.)

According to the Census Bureau, the overall Asian-American poverty rate in 2005 was 11.1% (or 1.4 million people). (See Table 2.1.) The rate was slightly lower than it was in 1987, the first year that the Census Bureau kept statistics on Asians and Pacific Islanders, when 12.7% lived below the poverty level. See Table 1.3 for the breakdown of poverty rates by different age groups among Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Age

CHILD POVERTY

Young adults and children under eighteen years of age were the age groups most likely to be poor (18.2% and 17.6%, respectively). Among these groups, it was the youngest children that suffered the most from poverty and deprivation. In 2005 one in five (20%) children under age six were poor, and more than one in four (25.4%) children under age six were poor or near-poor. Almost one in ten children this age (8.9%) were desperately poor, living in families with income-to-poverty ratios of under 0.5. (See Table 2.1.) In Poor Kids in a Rich Country: America's Children in Comparative Perspective (2003), Lee Rainwater and Timothy M. Smeeding indicate that the United States has the highest rate of child poverty among the fifteen richest nations in the world.

In 2005 children living with a female householder were particularly likely to live in poverty. Over a quarter of these children (28.7%) lived in poverty, compared with 13% of children living with a single dad and 5.1% of children living with married parents. (See Table 2.2.) Data from 2004 provide a more detailed look at children in female-householder families. In that year 53% of children under age six living in female-household families were poor, compared with 37% of children aged six to seventeen. (See Table 2.3.) Almost half (49%) of African-American children and over half (52%) of Hispanic children living in female-householder families were poor, compared with about a third (32%) of white, non-Hispanic children living in female-householder families.

Children are not only more likely than adults to be poor but they also arguably suffer more from the deprivations of poverty than do adults. Childhood poverty is a matter of great concern because strong evidence suggests that food insecurity and lack of good medical care caused by poverty can limit a child's physical and cognitive development. In addition, poverty is the largest predictor of child abuse and neglect. In fact, the Children's Defense Fund (2006, http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/PageNavigator/c2pp_poverty) argues that "poverty is the largest driving force behind the 'Cradle to Prison Pipeline,'" a life trajectory that the organization believes leads children to marginalized lives and premature deaths. In addition, the National Center for Children in Poverty states in "Children's Mental Health: Facts for Policymakers" (November 2006, http://www.nccp.org/media/ucr06b_text.pdf) that children in poverty are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than are other children.

TABLE 2.1
People with income below specified ratios of their poverty thresholds, by age, race, and family status, 2005
[Numbers in thousands. People as of March of the following year.]
CharacteristicTotalIncome-to-poverty ratio
Under 0.50Under 1.00Under 1.25
NumberPercentNumberPercentNumberPercent
*Federal surveys now give respondents the option of reporting more than one race. Therefore, two basic ways of defining a race group are possible. A group such as Asian may be defined as those who reported Asian and no other race (the race-alone or single-race concept) or as those who reported Asian regardless of whether they also reported another race (the race-alone-or-in-combination concept). This table shows data using the first approach (race alone). The use of the single-race population does not imply that it is the preferred method of presenting or analyzing data. The Census Bureau uses a variety of approaches. About 2.6 percent of people reported more than one race in Census 2000.
Note: Details may not sum to totals because of rounding.
Source: Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Cheryl Hill Lee, "Table 6. People with Income Below Specified Ratios of Their Poverty Thresholds by Selected Characteristics: 2005," in Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau, August 2006, http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p60-231.pdf (accessed December 1, 2006)
   All people293,13515,9285.436,95012.649,32716.8
Age
Under 18 years73,2855,6487.712,89617.616,67922.8
18 to 24 years27,9652,6259.45,09418.26,37922.8
25 to 34 years39,4802,2485.74,96512.66,57416.7
35 to 44 years43,1211,8424.34,1869.75,59913.0
45 to 54 years42,7971,4943.53,5048.24,57310.7
55 to 59 years17,8276633.71,4418.11,92310.8
60 to 64 years13,1534983.81,2609.61,68412.8
65 years and older35,5059092.63,60310.15,917167
Race* and Hispanic origin
White235,43010,2884.424,87210.633,86414.4
White, not Hispanic195,5536,9163.516,2278.322,26211.4
Black36,8024,30211.79,16824.911,48431.2
Asian12,5806475.11,40211.11,90915.2
Hispanic (any race)43,0203,7018.69,36821.812,58229.2
Family status
In families242,38910,5734.426,06810.835,36214.6
  Householder77,4183,2304.27,6579.910,44213.5
  Related children under 1872,0955,2097.212,33517.116,02822.2
    Related children under 623,9142,1278.94,78420.06,07025.4
Unrelated subfamilies1,22030825.245637.456846.5
Unrelated individual49,5265,04810.210,42521.113,39727.1
  Male24,1582,2399.34,31517.95,56423.0
  Female25,3672,80911.16,11124.17,83330.9

POVERTY AMONG THE ELDERLY

In contrast with children, senior citizens are underrepresented among the poor. Barely one in ten (10.1%) adults aged sixty-five and older were poor, up by 0.3% from the year before. (See Table 2.2.) From 1959 to 2002 the number of people sixty-five years and older living in poverty dropped significantly, from about 35% to 10.4%. (See Figure 2.1.) Most observers credit Social Security for the sharp decline in poverty among the elderly.

Urban Areas

People living in inner cities are most likely to suffer from poverty. In 2005, 17% of people living in inner cities lived below the poverty line. (See Table 2.2.) Only 9.3% of people who lived in suburban areasinside metropolitan statistical areas but outside principal citieslived below the poverty line. In rural areas the poverty rate was also high14.5%.

Family Status

In 2005 people living in families (10.8%) were less likely to suffer from poverty than people living in unrelated subfamilies (37.4%) or in households with unrelated individuals (21.1%). (See Table 2.1.) However, there was a great difference in the poverty rate between different family structures. Even though about one in every ten families in the United States was living in poverty in 2005, families headed by married couples had the lowest poverty rate (5.1%). More than a quarter (28.7%) of all families with a female householder (no husband present) were living in poverty, a 0.4% increase over the previous year. Male householders were also more likely than married-couple families to be in poverty (13%), but they were much less likely than female householders to be poor. (See Table 2.2.)

TABLE 2.2
People and families living in poverty, by demographic characteristics, 200405
[Numbers in thousands. People as of March of the following year.]
CharacteristicBelow poverty in 2004aBelow poverty in 2005Change in poverty (2005 less 2004)b
NumberPercentageNumberNumberNumberPercentage
People
    Total37,04012.736,95012.6900.1
Family status
In families26,54411.026,06810.84760.3
    Householder7,83510.27,6579.91770.3
    Related children under 1812,47317.312,33517.11380.2
        Related children under 64,74720.04,78420.037
In unrelated subfamilies57045.445637.41148.1
    Reference person23445.418135.9539.5
    Children under 1831546.627039.7456.9
Unrelated individual9,92620.410,42521.14990.6
    Male4,31618.24,31517.910.4
    Female5,61122.56,11124.15001.6
Racec and Hispanic origin
White25,32710.824,87210.64560.3
    White, not Hispanic16,9088.716,2278.36820.4
Black9,01424.79,16824.91540.2
Asian1,2019.81,40211.12011.3
Hispanic origin (any race)9,12221.99,36821.82460.1
Age
Under 18 years13,04117.812,89617.61450.2
18 to 64 years20,54511.320,45011.1950.2
65 years and older3,4539.83,60310.11500.3
Nativity
Native31,02312.131,08012.1570.1
Foreign born6,01717.15,87016.51470.6
    Naturalized citizen1,3269.81,44110.41150.6
    Not a citizen4,69121.64,42920.42621.3
Region
Northeast6,26011.66,10311.31560.3
Midwest7,54511.77,41911.41260.2
South14,81714.114,85414.0380.1
West8,41912.58,57312.6154
Residence
Inside metropolitan statistical areas(NA)(NA)30,09812.2(X)(X)
    Inside principal cities(NA)(NA)15,96617.0(X)(X)
    Outside principal cities(NA)(NA)14,1329.3(X)(X)
Outside metropolitan statistical areasd(NA)(NA)6,85214.5(X)(X)
Work experience
All workers (16 years and older)9,3846.19,3406.0450.1
    Worked full-time, year-round2,8912.82,8942.830.1
    Not full-time, year-round6,49312.86,44612.847
Did not work at least one week15,87121.716,04121.8170
Families
    Total7,83510.27,6579.91770.3

SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES

An increasing number of children are being raised by one parent, usually the mother. The proportion of single-parent families grew rapidly between 1970 and the mid-1990s, whereas the proportion of families headed by married couples dropped. Since then the structure of U.S. households and families has remained relatively stable. In 2003, 23.3% of all households were married couples with children, down from 40.3% in 1970. (See Figure 2.2.) Another 28.2% of all households were married couples without children, down slightly from 30.3% in 1970. The percentage of other family households, including single-parent households headed by single women and single men, had risen to 16.4% of all households in 2003 from 10.6% in 1970. Most of these other family households were headed by female householders. Table 2.4 shows that in 2003 there were almost three times as many single female-headed families as there were single male-headed families (13.6 million female householders versus 4.6 million male householders).

TABLE 2.2
People and families living in poverty, by demographic characteristics, 200405 [continued]
[Numbers in thousands. People as of March of the following year.]
CharacteristicBelow poverty in 2004aBelow poverty in 2005Change in poverty (2005 less 2004)b
NumberPercentageNumberNumberNumberPercentage
Represents zero or rounds to zero.
(NA) Not available.
(X) Not applicable.
aThe 2004 data have been revised to reflect a correction to the weights in the 2005 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC).
bDetails may not sum to totals because of rounding.
cFederal surveys now give respondents the option of reporting more than one race. Therefore, two basic ways of defining a race group are possible. A group such as Asian may be defined as those who reported Asian and no other race (the race-alone or single-race concept) or as those who reported Asian regardless of whether they also reported another race (the race-alone-or-in-combination concept). This table shows data using the first approach (race alone). The use of the single-race population does not imply that it is the preferred method of presenting or analyzing data. The Census Bureau uses a variety of approaches. Information on people who reported more than one race, such as white and American Indian and Alaska Native or Asian and black or African American, is available from Census 2000 through American FactFinder. About 2.6 percent of people reported more than one race in Census 2000.
dThe "Outside metropolitan statistical areas" category includes both micropolitan statistical areas and territory outside of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas.
Source: Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Cheryl Hill Lee, "Table 4. People and Families in Poverty by Selected Characteristics: 2004 and 2005," in Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau, August 2006, http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p60-231.pdf (accessed December 1, 2006)
Type of family
Married-couple3,2165.52,9445.12710.5
Female householder, no husband present3,96228.34,04428.7820.4
Male householder, no wife present65713.466913.0120.4

One factor in the rise of single-parent families is the rise in the divorce rate. In 1970 only 3.5% of men and 5.7% of women were separated or divorced. (See Figure 2.3.) By 2003, 10.1% of men and 13.3% of women were divorced. The percentage of divorced women is consistently higher than the percentage of divorced men because divorced men are more likely to remarry. After divorce, women most often raise the children. As Table 2.5 shows, almost two-thirds (64.2%) of custodial parents in 2003 were women.

Another reason for the increase in single-parent families is the rise in people who never marry yet still have children. Jason Fields reports in America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2003 (November 2004, http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p20-553.pdf) that the percentage of people aged fifteen or older who had never married rose from 24.9% in 1970 to 28.6% in 2003. The proportion of those who have never married has increased as young adults delay the age at which they marry. Between 1970 and 2003 the median age at first marriage had risen from 20.8 years to 25.3 years for women, and from 23.2 years to 27.1 years for men. In addition, the proportion of all households that were unmarried-partner heterosexual households steadily rose between 1996 and 2003, from 2.9% to 4.2% of all households. (See Figure 2.4.)

Single-parent women are more likely than single-parent men to have never been married. In 2003, 4.4 million of 10.1 million single mothers (43.6%), compared with 601,000 of 1.7 million single fathers (35.3%), had never been married. (See Table 2.6.) In 2003 African-American single mothers were most likely to have never been married (1.9 million of 3.1 million, or 61.3%), followed by Hispanic women (850,000 of 1.8 million, or 47.2%), and non-Hispanic white women (1.5 million of 4.9 million, or 30.6%).

In 2002 African-American children were far more likely to live with a single parent than were white or Hispanic children. In that year 48% of African-American children lived with their mothers and 5% with their fathers. Twenty-five percent of Hispanic children lived with their mothers and 5% with their fathers. Sixteen percent of white children lived with their mothers and 4% with their fathers. (See Figure 2.5.)

Jason Fields reports in Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002 (June 2003, http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p20-547.pdf) that in 2002 a higher percentage of African-American children (9%) than Hispanics (6%) or whites (4%) lived with neither parent. In part, this is because African-American children are more likely to live with grandparents without the presence of either parent.

CHILD SUPPORT

Child support is an important source of income for single parents, especially mothers. In 2003, 64.2% of custodial mothers and 39.8% of custodial

TABLE 2.3
Percentage of all children and related children living below selected poverty levels, by demographic characteristics, 19802004
Characteristic1980198119821983198419851986198719881989199019911992199319941995199619971998199920002001200220032004
Below 100% poverty
All childrenb18202222222121202020212222232221212019171616171818
Gender
    Male202020212122232120202018171616171818
    Female201920212223232221212019171616171818
Age
    Ages 0-5232223242526262524232221191818192020
    Ages 6-17191818192020212019191918161515161617
Race and Hispanic originc
White, non-Hispanic12131415141313121112121313141311111111991091011
Black42454847474443454444454647464442403737333130323434
Hispanicd33364038394038393836384040414240403734302828293029
Region
    Northeast171616182020212019192019161515151516
    Midwest191619192020201917161515141313131517
    South242423242426252424232220191819192020
    West192020202222232322232221181716171818
Related childrena
Children in all families, total18202122212020201919202122222120201918171616161717
    Related children ages 0-520222325232322222222232426262524232221181818192020
    Related children ages 6-1717182020201919181717182019202018181817161515151616
   White, non-Hispanic111214141312121111111212121312111011109999910
      Black42454746464343444343444646464342403736333130323433
Hispanicd33353938394037393736384039404139403634302827282929
Children in married-couple families, total10101010111112111010109988999
    Related children ages 0-5121112121213131211121110999101010
    Related children ages 6-17109910101011109999887888
    White, non-Hispanic767777876555555555
    Black18171818151818151314131211910121113
Hispanicd272525272929303028292623222120212121
Children in female-house holder families, no husband present, total51525655545454545351535655545350494946424039404242
    Related children ages 0-565666768656665666462666666646462595955515049495353
    Related children ages 6-1746475150494850484846475049494745454542393635363737
    White, non-Hispanic383736404140393834353733292829293132
      Black65525655546767676563656867666362585555524947485049
Hispanicd65525655547267707064686966666866676360525049485152
TABLE 2.3
Percentage of all children and related children living below selected poverty levels, by demographic characteristics, 19802004 [continued]
Characteristic1980198119821983198419851986198719881989199019911992199319941995199619971998199920002001200220032004
Below 50% poverty
All childrenb9989101010109998777788
Gender
    Male9989101010108898777788
    Female99991011101091098777788
Age
    Ages 0-51011101112131212111110108888109
    Ages 6-17987899997887767677
Race and Hispanic originc
    White, non-Hispanic554556654554444445
    Black232523232627262421212018151516151817
Hispanicd151613141516151716151614111011111110
Region
    Northeast776899109910108867678
    Midwest9899910997766666677
    South12121111121312121011109788899
    West686688898898666687
Related childrena
Children in all families, total779998899889101098888667777
    Related children ages 0-5101010101112121210111098888109
    Related children ages 6-17887789887787666666
    White, non-Hispanic544455543444333344
    Black17212323232223232422222527262320202017151516151717
Hispanicd15161214141514171614161311910111110
Children in married-couple families, total333333333333222222
    Related children ages 0-5333344443333223333
    Related children ages 6-17332233333332222222
    White, non-Hispanic222222221212122212
    Black674467763353333344
Hispanicd876789799775545554
Children in female-house holder families, no husband present, total282926282930292824262623201920202222
     Related children ages 0-5363834373739363734353431272828283131
    Related children ages 6-17252522232526252419222219171517161718
    White, non-Hispanic191816191920191813181715131213121515
    Black383836374041403632333129252427252727
Hispanicd323930323131303633343632272526262528
TABLE 2.3
Percentage of all children and related children living below selected poverty levels, by demographic characteristics, 19802004 [continued]
Characteristic1980198119821983198419851986198719881989199019911992199319941995199619971998199920002001200220032004
Below 150% poverty
All childrenb313031313333343332323130282728282928
Gender
    Male313031313233343332313029282727282928
    Female313031323334343333333130292728282928
Age
    Ages 0-5333434353638383736353432312930313232
    Ages 6-17292828303131323131302928282526272727
Race and Hispanic originc
    White, non-Hispanic212020212222222220202018181617171817
    Black585758586060615857565252484646484948
Hispanicd565455565958605959585653504747474847
Region
    Northeast252525272829292929292828262325252523
    Midwest292728293030303027262425232223232526
    South353536363738393636