The total population of the U.S. was 328.2 million in 2021 and 37.9 million were in poverty. Therefore, the overall Poverty Rate for the year 2021 was 11.6%. This was not significantly different from the rate in 2020.
However, estimates for 2021 reveal something noteworthy. Pandemic-era benefits may have helped drive poverty in 2021 lower than in 2020, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy and at the nonprofit Urban Institute.
By one measure, 2021 was already a notable low, with the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 supplemental poverty rate — which factors in families’ expenses, as well as government assistance like stimulus checks — falling to its lowest since the estimate was first published, in 2002.
Those at the bottom of the economic scale were hit much harder by the coronavirus recession and are finding it harder to bounce back.
Some causes of poverty in the United States include: Income inequality, Inflation, Unemployment, Debt traps, Poor education.
Poverty has many effects on life in the United States. It can lead to poor health outcomes and lower life expectancy. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to experience developmental delays and have lower academic achievement. They are also more likely to experience food insecurity and lack access to quality healthcare1. Poverty can also lead to housing insecurity and homelessness.
Some groups that are most affected by poverty in the United States include:
- Adults not working
- Adults without a high school diploma
- Adults with a disability
- Single moms
- Black Americans
- Foreign born non-citizens
- Hispanic Americans
While the poverty rate for the population as a whole is 11.6%, the rate varies greatly by race. Blacks have the highest poverty rate at 19.5% and Non-Hispanic whites have the lowest at 8.1%. The Poverty rate for Blacks and Hispanics is more than double that of non-Hispanic Whites
The United States is the richest country in the world with more poverty than any other advanced democracy.
A recently published book on the subject is Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond. It is a book that examines the nature of American poverty today and the stories we tell ourselves about it. The author explains why there is so much poverty in America and also makes a case for how it can be eliminated. This will require readers to take action and become “poverty abolitionists.”
The book is divided into two parts: Prologue and Chapters 1-7. In the Prologue, the author begins by asking why there is so much poverty in America, a question that has troubled him often throughout his career. He grew up in the small town of Winslow, Arizona, in a house that cost $60,000. When his father lost his job as a pastor and could no longer afford to make payments, their house was repossessed. Desmond wondered at the time “why this was our country’s answer when a family fell on hard times.”
In Chapter 1: “The Kind of Problem Poverty Is”, Desmond discusses the case of Crystal Mayberry, who was born into poverty and abused as a child. The measure of poverty used by the United States government was devised by a bureaucrat named Mollie Orshansky, who worked at the Social Security Administration. She calculated that a family should be classified as poor if they had to devote more than a third of their income to buying food. The current Official Poverty Measure is based on this calculation and, as of 2022, stands at $13,590 for a single person or $27,750 for a family of four.
Desmond believes that poverty can be eliminated by empowering the poor, which means more unionization and new rules to make housing more affordable and lending less predatory. He also calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.