STUDY: Most In USA Poor Sometime In Adult Life FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 17 Apr 1999 07:21:39 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  ScienceDaily Magazine - April 7, 1999


St. Louis, April 7, 1999 -- 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

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.

[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.]


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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