Monday, January 13, 2014

My New Found Interest in Poverty

With hard work and my own efforts, I have had a life of relative comfort. Through a series of events (illness) beginning in 1999, I began a fall into a situation that can only be described as a reversal of fortune. I recovered and then fell into a complex downward spiral again during the latest recession. I've been lucky to have friends who didn't let me drown, but as a result, I am very interested in the elderly poor in America.

Americans often see poverty in stark terms — you’re either poor, and likely to remain so, or you’re not. But the latest government numbers show how much people slip in and out of poverty, and highlight a startling truth: A great many of us become poor at some point.

Roughly one in three Americans (31.6%) was living in poverty for at least two months from 2009 to 2011, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau that covers the tail-end of the recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, and immediately after. In 2005 to 2007, only 27.1% of Americans experienced poverty for two or more straight months.

Not only did more Americans slip into poverty in the recession’s aftermath — those who did had a tougher time. The typical length of a “poverty spell” was 6.6 months, up from 5.7 months in 2005-2007. And “chronic” poverty, or the share of Americans poor for the entire period studied, rose to 3.5% from 3% in 2005-2007.

America’s official poverty rate, which Census said last September was unchanged in 2012 at 15% of the U.S. population — well above the 12.5% level in 2007 — comes from a government study called the Current Population Survey. This survey showed some 46.5 million Americans were below the official poverty line of $23,492 for a family of four. (A more comprehensive, supplemental measure put poverty at 16% in 2012.)

But these measures offer only a snapshot of poverty in time, one based on the size of the respondent’s family at a given point — and don’t capture how much Americans are moving into and out of poverty, often within a single year.

Indeed, according to Tuesday’s figures, which are based on a separate Survey of Income and Program Participation, 44% of Americans’ “poverty spells” in 2009 to 2011 ended within just four months.

“A small fraction of people are in poverty for more than one year, while a larger percentage of people experience poverty for shorter time-periods,” writes Census poverty analyst Ashley Edwards. “Most individuals experience relatively short spells of poverty.”

Of course, these movements in and out of poverty may give a misleadingly rosy impression. Roughly half — 49.5% — of the people who escaped poverty within 2009 and 2011 continued to have an income that was less than 150% of the poverty threshold that applied to them given their family size. In other words, many of the poverty “escapees” remained fairly close to the poverty line.

Of the 37.6 million people who were poor in January and February 2009, just 26.4% stayed poor for the next 34 months; and 12.6 million people, or 35.4% of those poor in 2009, weren’t poor in 2011. And yet, at the same time, 13.5 million people who weren’t poor in 2009 fell into poverty by 2011.

In addition to tracing these movements, Census also has interesting findings on demographic groups. Hispanics were more likely than black Americans to enter poverty in 2009-2011—but also more likely to exit it.

While poverty among the elderly has fallen dramatically in recent years — the New York Times pointed out this past weekend that the poverty rate among older Americans has fallen to 9% from 35% in 1959 — the latest Census data show that once the elderly do slip into poverty, their “exit” rates aren’t that different from children. In fact, the typical length of their “poverty spells,” at 8.3 months, is longer than for both children and working adults.

from the Wall Street Journal

I am determined to come out of this "poverty spell" and return to my earlier life before the real estate bubble popped and blew me straight to hell. But meanwhile, it doesn't hurt to be aware of what the rest of the elderly in America are going through.


No comments:

Post a Comment