News Release

How Poverty Affects a Majority of Americans


STEPHEN PIMPARE, [email] Pimpare is author of “A People’s History of Poverty in America” and adjunct associate professor of social work at Columbia University and the City University of New York.

He said today: “Later this morning, when the Census Bureau releases its latest data, it is likely to show that poverty rose in 2011. Again. And while it will be tempting to explain that rise by pointing the continued effects of the Great Recession and the very slow recovery from it, poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans have all been under assault for three decades now, and counting. This is merely another data point in an unfolding tragedy. If the 2011 number is above 15.2 percent, it will mark the highest overall poverty rate since 1965. And, of course, it will be much worse, as it always is, for African Americans.

“That number will mask an even deeper problem, however — the official data only tell us how many were poor when the survey was conducted, but Americans move in and out of poverty over time. If we take this into account, we find that more than 50 percent of all Americans are poor for at least a month over a two year period, with 40 percent are poor for six months or more. Periodic bouts of short-term poverty are a fact of life for the MAJORITY of Americans. And this will be true even when the recovery from the Recession is complete, unless we work more aggressively to confront the long-term, large-scale losses American families have suffered.

“Of course should we want to, we could reduce poverty — after all, every other rich democracy has figured out how. Why can’t we?”

See Census Bureau media advisory