10 Poverty Myths Debunked


1. Single moms are the problem. Only 9 percent of low-income, urban moms have been single throughout their child's first five years. Thirty-five percent were married to, or in a relationship with, the child's father for that entire time.*

2. Absent dads are the problem. Sixty percent of low-income dads see at least one of their children daily. Another 16 percent see their children weekly.*

3. Black dads are the problem. Among men who don't live with their children, black fathers are more likely than white or Hispanic dads to have a daily presence in their kids' lives.

4. Poor people are lazy. In 2004, there was at least one adult with a job in 60 percent of families on food stamps that had both kids and a nondisabled, working-age adult. Since 1996, any adult receiving state aid must be employed, which is problematic as there are not enough jobs in the low-wage labor market and more are disappearing. These also are jobs without insurance, retirement, or childcare. Thus, income from wages is not enough to cover child care and the family cannot get out of poverty even with assistance. It has been argued that the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net. It increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people from welfare into homeless shelters, and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely. It moved mothers and children from welfare to work, but many of them are not making enough to survive. Many of them were pushed off welfare rolls because they didn't show up for an appointment, because they could not get to an appointment for lack of child care.

TANF--temporary assistance for Needy Families--replaced AFDC--Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Assistance cannot last more than two consecutive years and has a lifetime cap of five years--states may shorten that.

5. If you're not officially poor, you're doing okay. The federal poverty line for a family of two parents and two children in 2012 was $23,283. Basic needs cost at least twice that in 615 of America's cities and regions. Roughly 46 million people in the U.S., or 15% of the population, lived below the official poverty line in 2011 ($11,484 for an individual or $23,021 for a family of four per year). About 10.4 million of them are considered part of the “working poor.” That means they spent at least half the year in the labor force (working or looking for work), but they still fell below the poverty level. The service sector accounted for 3.3 million of the working poor in 2011. About 13% of all service workers were classified as working poor (see more about the working poor below)

6. Go to college, get out of poverty. In 2012, about 1.1 million people who made less than $25,000 a year, worked full time, and were heads of household had a bachelor's degree.**

7. We're winning the war on poverty. The number of households with children living on less than $2 a day per person has grown 160 percent since 1996, to 1.65 million families in 2011.

8. The days of old ladies eating cat food are over. The share of elderly single women living in extreme poverty jumped 31 percent from 2011 to 2012.

9. The homeless are drunk street people. One in 45 kids in the United States experiences homelessness each year. In New York City alone, 22,000 children are homeless. Up to 40% of homeless children are gay teens who were rejected by their families***

10. "Handouts" are bankrupting us. In 2012, total welfare funding was 0.47 percent of the federal budget (19% went to defense).


*Source: Analysis by Dr. Laura Tach at Cornell University.
**Source: US Census
***Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/04/homeless-lgbt-youth_n_2411884.html
other sources are linked above


Thirty-five Things to Know About Poverty

#1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 146 million Americans are either "poor" or "low income".

#2 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either "poor" or "low income".

#3 Back in 2007, about 28 percent of all working families were considered to be among "the working poor".  Today, that number is up to 32 percent (even though our politicians tell us that the economy is recovering).

#4 Back in 2007, 21 million U.S. children lived in "working poor" homes.  Today, that number is up to 23.5 million.

#5 In Arkansas, Mississippi and New Mexico, more than 40 percent all of working families are considered to be "low income".

#6 Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#7 Half of all American workers earn $505 or less per week.

#8 Today, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.

#9 Today, the United States has a higher percentage of workers doing low wage work than any other major industrialized nation does.

#10 Median household income in the United States has fallen for four consecutive years.

#11 Median household income for families with children dropped by $6,300 between 2001 and 2011.

#12 The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs.  60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.

#13 Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs.  Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.

#14 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

#15 There are now 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing.  That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

#16 Low income families spend about 8.6 percent of their incomes on gasoline.  Other families spend about 2.1 percent.

#17 In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

#18 According to one survey, 77 percent of all Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time.

#19 Millions of working poor families in America end up taking on debt in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, but before too long they find themselves in a debt trap that they can never escape.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, the average debt burden for U.S. households that earn $20,000 a year or less "more than doubled to $26,000 between 2001 and 2010".

#20 In 1989, the debt to income ratio of the average American family was about 58 percent.  Today it is up to 154 percent.

#21 According to the Economic Policy Institute, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans households on average have 288 times the amount of wealth that the average middle class American family does.

#22 In the United States today, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

#23 According to Forbes, the 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

#24 The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have a net worth that is roughly equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans combined.

#25 The bottom 60 percent of all Americans own just 2.3 percent of all the financial wealth in the United States.

#26 The average CEO now makes approximately 350 times as much as the average American worker makes. This is unique to USA

#27 Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at an all-time high.  Meanwhile, wages as a percentage of GDP are near an all-time low.

#28 Today, 40 percent of all Americans have $500 or less in savings.

#29 The number of families in the United States living on 2 dollars a day or less more than doubled between 1996 and 2011.

#30 The number of Americans on food stamps has grown from 17 million in the year 2000 to more than 47 million today.

#31 Back in the 1970s, about one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps. Today, about one out of every 6.5 Americans is on food stamps.

#32 More than one out of every four children in the United States is enrolled in the food stamp program.

#33 A higher percentage of children is living in poverty in America today than was the case back in 1975.

#34 The federal government provides assistance to 128 million Americans every month.

#35 Federal spending on welfare has reached nearly a trillion dollars a year, and it is being projected that it will increase by another 80 percent over the next decade.

Sources are linked above


(c) Ginna Babcock University of Idaho