The Crisis of Poverty In America

More than 46 million Americans live below the official poverty line—which is now approximately $23,021 for a family of four—and over 16 million children are poor in this country. Inequality of wealth has reached record highs—it is greater than at any time since 1929. Growing portions of the nation’s wealth are concentrated in the possession of a small fraction of households, while more than one third of the U.S. population is trying to get by on incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line—or about $44,000 for a family of four. Well before the current economic crisis, 6 million low-income households were paying more than half their income on rent and utilities, or lived in severely substandard housing. And the most recent data for 2011 revealed that 48.8 million people, including 16.2 million children, lived in a household struggling against hunger.

Now, increasing unemployment, high prices for gas and food, and a continuing foreclosure crisis are putting growing numbers of families at risk, exacting a high moral and economic cost on all Americans. In fact, in 2007, the Center for American Progress estimated that childhood poverty alone cost the nation roughly $500 billion. A recent report from the Half in Ten campaign reveals that the cost has likely risen by billions of dollars in the past three years due to increasing economic insecurity.

The problems economically struggling people face have been exacerbated by lack of affordable child care, health care, transportation, and other structures necessary to make sure work pays; dangerous predatory lending practices; barriers to unionization; cuts in social spending; and exclusionary politics at all levels that hobble meaningful public participation and accountability in government.