In the United States, those who live in poverty have limited access to basic necessities. They might have a house or apartment, and they likely have a job (or two or three), but they are barely getting by. When families live below the poverty line in the United States, they are forced to make difficult choices with limited income: Do they pay the rent or the medical bills? Do they fix the leaking roof or put gas in their vehicle so they can get to their jobs? Where do they find the extra cash needed to buy school supplies for their children? Without education or a fair-wage job, parents and their children often are trapped in a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break. These families have little or no access to the tools or opportunities that will allow them to break free from their circumstances. America has highest poverty levels among most developed nations.
Poverty in the United States is far higher than in other developed nations.
According to UNICEF, the United States ranks 24th of 25 countries when ranked by the number of children living below the national poverty line.According to the Center for American Progress, in 2005, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans had the largest share of the nation’s income (19 percent) since 1929. At the same time, the poorest 20 percent of Americans held only 3.4 percent of the nation’s income.
The nature of poverty in America
There is a common perception of what poverty in America looks like, but the true face of poverty in the United States may surprise you.
- The poor do work: More than half of Americans who are considered poor do have jobs.
- Poverty affects many: Half of all Americans will be poor at some time.
- Most poor Americans are Caucasian: Nearly half of all people living in poverty in the United States are white non-Hispanics. However, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to live in poverty than other ethnic groups.
Each day in the United States, an estimated 36.5 million people wake up to another day of poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. One in six children — some 13 million youth — are among those who do not have enough to meet their basic needs. In 2008, “poverty” is defined by the United States government as a family of four living on less than $21,200 a year.
Poverty in the United States
In addition to our work across the globe, CitiIMPACT works in some of the most challenging areas in the United States — both rural and urban communities. These families struggle daily to make ends meet. An unexpected health issue or loss of job could spell disaster.
CitiIMPACT seeks to open doors of opportunity for marginalized youth in the United States by pressing for interventions to reduce violence and advocating for education for all. We also work to strengthen the leadership and civic empowerment skills of youth so that they are equipped to advocate for change in their own communities.
Poverty’s effects in the United States versus in the developing world
In the developing world, extreme poverty leaves people without food, medicine, and shelter — life’s basic necessities.
Why are there poor Americans?
Several factors contribute to the state of poverty in the United States:
- Illness — both physical and mental
- Job loss
- Limited, poor quality, or no education
- Low wages
- Detrimental peer or family influence
Populations most afflicted by poverty include:
- Women and children
A difficult cycle to break
The economic status of a child largely determines where he or she will end up in the economic spectrum as an adult. For instance, the Center for American Progress found that:
- 42 percent of children born in the bottom income quintile will remain in that quintile as adults.
- 6 percent of children born in the bottom income quintile will reach the top quintile as adults.
- 1 percent of children from low-income families will reach the top 5 percent of the income distribution.
- 22 percent of children from wealthy families will reach the top 5 percent of the income distribution.
How does poverty affect children?
Practical aspects of domestic poverty include:
- Exposure to or involvement in violent acts
- Poor quality education or no education
- Poor health due to limited access to health care
- Homelessness due to limited access to affordable, adequate housing
- A life of crime
Growing up poor keeps children in a state of insecurity, which prevents them from thriving.
This insecurity can lead to:
- Destructive or violent behavior
- Poor school performance
All of these factors perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
God’s call to care for the poor and vulnerable
In Scripture, we encounter a consistent call to promote justice for the poor and vulnerable. CitiIMPACT believes God’s concern for the poor extends to all children, including those living in the United States. Recognizing that we live in a country where millions of children and families are in need, we are called to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” (Psalm 82:3-4).
Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25 also speak to these issues powerfully, along with the unction to “set the captives free”.
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