Three in Five Americans Have Experienced a Year of Poverty

These findings suggest that "across the American life course, there is a large amount of income volatility."

Three in Five Americans Have Experienced a Year of Poverty

How likely is it that someone will experience poverty within their lifetime? Three in five, according to a new study published in Plos One.

Researchers Mark R. Rank and Thomas A. Hirschl did a long-term study, analyzing data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which followed 4,800 households from 1968 to 2011. They followed groups of people from ages 25 to 60 in order to get a sense of how many people will fall into poverty and extreme poverty within their lifetimes.

The researchers write:

“Our focus is upon the extent that individuals experience relative poverty over time, the life course timing of poverty, whether this experience is long-term or acute, and the characteristics of those who are more likely to experience relative poverty.”

The researchers do battle with the definition of poverty, wanting to seek an accurate measurement of income and conditions. For example, someone's income may be below the poverty line, but they could be getting help from relatives or they could be living out on the streets. However, their data restricts them to using only income as a marker.

The results are quite interesting and describe the fairly porous nature of poverty in America. They write:

“Our results indicate that the occurrence of relative poverty is fairly widespread. Between the ages of 25 and 60, 61.8 percent of the population will experience at least one year of poverty, whereas 42.1 percent will experience extreme poverty. Furthermore, 24.9 percent of the population will encounter five or more years of poverty, and 11.4 percent will experience five or more years of extreme poverty.”

There are certain variables that increase this risk. For instance, if a person is younger, with less than 12 years of education, has a work disability, isn't married and white, and is female, these characteristics increase the odds that a person will encounter a year of poverty.

Based on this study, I would be one of the people who has “encountered poverty.” After quitting work to become a freelancer, it took me a year to gain enough work to raise my income past that line. But I did not live in poverty. Before I made the change in careers, I worked a salary job and saved up before I made the switch.

My story of dipping below the poverty line isn't everyone's; I don't want to make light of the income inequality concerns this nation is facing. What this study reveals, though, is that the class structure is not as rigid as we might be led to believe. Instead, they write that this finding "provides an interesting and important caveat to the overall story of rising levels of income inequality across the past 40 years."

The income issue is a complex one; the results of Vermont raising the minimum wage last year did not provide the solution for many workers. But some believe a basic income structure may help cure wage woes.

The president of Iceland says the secret to the Nordic countries' recent economic and social success is all thanks to social welfare programs, such as free access to education and health care, which have proved to be a boon to the free-market economy.

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists: Gamma-ray jets exceed the speed of light

Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.

An artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
  • The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
  • The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists find the "magic number" that links forces of the universe

Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.

The Universe and the fine-structure constant.

Credit: Adobe
Surprising Science
  • A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
  • This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
  • The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
Keep reading Show less

A new system separates oxygen and hydrogen from Mars’ water

Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.

Illustration of Mars' long-gone Jezero Lake

Technology & Innovation
  • Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
  • Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
  • The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
Keep reading Show less

How officials will ensure the COVID-19 vaccine stays cold enough in transit

Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?

Scroll down to load more…