Most Americans Will Experience Poverty Sometime In Adult Life... : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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"Most Americans Will Experience Poverty Sometime In Adult Life"

Washington University In St. Louis 4/8/99

St. Louis - Americans have long accepted the notion that "there will always be poor among us," but a soon-to-be published study may make that truism less comfortable by showing that a majority of Americans will themselves live in poverty for some portion of their adult lives.

"Nearly two-thirds of all Americans and more than 90 percent of African Americans will experience at least one year of living below the poverty line during their lifetime," said Mark R. Rank, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an associate professor of George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, conducted by Rank and Thomas A. Hirschl, a professor of rural sociology at Cornell University, is based on an analysis of income data for thousands of Americans for a 25-year period ending in 1992, a span in which official poverty rates fluctuated between 11 and 15 percent.

Although agencies have long tracked the number of people currently living in poverty, this new study is the first to offer solid estimates on an individual's odds of experiencing poverty across a lifespan. The results, to be published in the May 1999 issue of the journal Social Work, provide a startling picture of just how common the experience of poverty is in America.

An average American, now age 20, has about a 60 percent chance of spending at least one year living in poverty at some point in the future.

By age 35, about 31 percent of the U.S. population will have experienced a year in poverty. By age 65, the figure rises to 51 percent, and by age 85, it exceeds 66 percent.

African-Americans face much more daunting odds -- nearly 50 percent will experience a year of poverty before age 25; more than 60 percent by age 35; nearly 85 percent by age 65; and a whopping 91 percent will have spent a year in poverty by age 75. Americans tend to think of poverty as "something that happens to someone else," but this first-of-a-kind analysis by Rank and Hirschl drives home the fact that poverty is a mainstream issue, one that can not be attributed simply to individual lack of motivation, questionable morals and so on. Furthermore, the findings provide a new and powerful argument for the importance and the retention of an adequate social safety net based on individual self-interest.

"For the majority of Americans, the question is not if they will experience poverty, but when," the study concludes. "Rather than an isolated event that occurs only to what has been labeled the "underclass," the reality is that the majority of Americans will encounter poverty firsthand during their adult lifetimes."

And, while the study clearly contradicts the popular notion that poverty is a problem only for blacks, its findings do demonstrate just how few blacks in this country are able to completely escape the hardship of poverty in their lifetimes.

"The fact that virtually every African American will experience poverty at some point during his or her adulthood speaks volumes as to the economic meaning of being black in America," Rank writes.


Rank, an expert on poverty, welfare and social policy, is the author of "Living on the Edge: The Realities of Welfare in America" (Columbia University Press, 1994). The book, which shatters many common myths about welfare and the poor, is based on 10 years of research involving extensive data analysis and hundreds of face-to-face interviews with welfare recipients. Other recent research includes the analysis of a national survey of 13,000 American households to determine the extent of intergenerational welfare use.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Washington University In St. Louis for journalists and other members of the public. If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please credit Washington University In St. Louis as the original source. You may also wish to include the following link in any citation:
-- Andrei-hung-lo (, April 10, 1999


Well, talk about a self-serving book. Looks like the good doctor wants every expanding welfare to help lift the poor people (pun intended) up from their worthless (pun intended again) existence.

Supposedly *I* lived in poverty for 4 years myself as an adult. (I'm 38 now). Fact is, I lived in the desert near Big Bend National Park. I was a river guide, artist, and printer.

I also enjoyed the hell out of myself, didn't need much money, and owned 7 acres of land with a view like you wouldn't believe.

My situation may have been unusual. But I HATE being lumped into statistics like this.

Poverty is a state of mind. It's a choice. You stay in it if you want. Most could get out (IMO) if they really wanted to.

Jolly lived "below" the poverty line, but was NEVER poor.

NOT poor and proud of it.

-- Jollyprez (, April 10, 1999.

Jollyprez: I envy you. I wish I could manage to get 4 years of peace and beauty. It must have been great.

-- curtis schalek (, April 10, 1999.


I agree... Best time of my life was a couple of years spent on a ranch in Oklahoma... I lived well below the "poverty level" and had the best experiences of my life !

-- WebRNot (, April 10, 1999.

You can believe that if used data on college students, many of whom fit within the age parameters mentioned, the results are likely skewed.

-- Tom Dawson (, April 10, 1999.

I've lived at the poverty level--with a small child--AND I had a full-time job as a waitress, and it was NO fun at all.

-- Old Git (, April 10, 1999.

Me too, Old Git. No it wasn't fun. The only difference was that I worked in a bank. The only good part was that the bank had a kitchen and served excellent, cheap meals to employees, and provided all our coffee for $1.00 a month.

-- gilda jessie (, April 10, 1999.

Gilda, I've noticed we think and feel alike in many areas. Now I know why. I have a few health problems and would be back there again if it weren't for Sweetie. Now you know why I call him Sweetie.

-- Old Git (, April 10, 1999.

Old Git, I've noticed the similarity too. I also think we're about the same age. I read on a post this morning (Lon's anniversary) that you'd only been married l3 years to Sweetie, that too is similar, (unless you made a typo, hee hee) . Swede and I have been married 12 years.

By the way, I've enjoyed your frugal living advice. I too grew up in a frugal family, and it may be the best thing that happened to me. We're going to try the Square Foot Gardening plan this year. It's supposed to be easier on backs with rusty hinges.

-- gilda jessie (, April 11, 1999.

Yup, 13 years on December 31, 1999. Sweetie is not my first husband. I bet you wash out and reuse Ziplocs too, don't you? And anything to ease the creaks is wonderful--I love my gardening "scoot." I'm not so dignified that sitting in dirt bothers me, but I had to wait until none of the neighbors were around before I tried to get up! (Crawl carefully over to a tree or fence and "walk" up it!) Those of you going, "Oh, no, the wrinklies are at it AGAIN!" just wait a bit and your knees or back will go too, maybe in the middle of Y2K breakdowns! Then you'll wish you'd listened to Gilda an' me. I'm sticking with my big plant pots for the moment, just put four more tomatoes in pots.

-- Old Git (, April 11, 1999.

I got a laugh when I read about washing and reusing Ziploc bags, for I sure do, along with little plastic containers and jars that may come in handy. I too was married before. Speaking of wrinklies, once when I was younger I made a tacky remark about an old person's driving and my mother said, "just wait, you'll get there too if you live long enough." She was right; I'm here.

-- gilda jessie (, April 11, 1999.

Been there. Done that. (Had my turn already.) So does that mean I no longer have to worry about Y2K? :-)

-- A (, April 11, 1999.

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