Poverty in America: What we hope, what we believe, and what is actually true

This video, created by YouTube user “Politizane,” aptly demonstrates not only the astonishing wealth inequality in the United States, but the great yawning divide between what Americans believe is the distribution of wealth in this country and what actually exists. Note: the idealized version of the wealth curve is the same across partisan lines. (No socialism here!)

According to Politizane, who created the visualization using data from Mother Jones, Think Progress, CNN, and economist Dan Ariely, the poorest Americans, in our idealized version, would be poor, but wouldn’t suffer unduly. In reality, the poor don’t even register on the wealth scale. The middle class is barely distinguishable from the poor, and even the rich are not very well off. The top 1 percent of America, however, has 40 percent of America’s wealth. The bottom 80 percent of American only has 7 percent of the country’s wealth to share between them.

What isn’t shown in Politizane’s remarkable video is how disproportionately women in America suffer from poverty, particularly women of color. According to the National Women’s Law Center analysis of U.S. Census poverty data released in 2012, the poverty rate for women in the U.S. has stabilized post-recession, but at 14.6 percent, remains the highest rate in nearly two decades. The poverty rate for men was also stable, standing at 10.9 percent. (You can read the full report here.)

The poverty rate for black women in 2011 was 25.9 percent, nearly double that of women generally. The poverty rate for Hispanic women dropped to 23.9 percent from 25 percent the year prior — a small victory given the high number of Hispanic women in poverty, but a victory nonetheless.

The poverty rate for elderly women held steady at 10.7 percent; but the poverty rate of elderly women living alone grew to 18.4 percent from 17 percent the year prior.

Overall, 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2011, the largest number of people considered poor since the census began recording poverty statistics more than half a century ago. If we’re talking history, it’s also significant to note: since the beginning of measuring poverty statistics, women have always had higher levels of poverty than men.

Today, 17.7 million poor people in this country are women. Some of those women, who are receiving federal aid through programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will suffer further with cuts due to the sequester. The question remains what real actions we can take to support them instead. Because as Politizane plainly exposed, what we hope to be true about people in poverty, and what we believe to be true about poverty, is far from what is true about people suffering in poverty.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 6, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this piece and pointing out such important and terrifying statistics! The fact is that this inequality is in a dynamical system which includes not only wealth inequality but also gender and race inequality, as you mentioned. It’s a systemic problem so much more than it is a personal problem. Raising awareness is necessary, but as you mentioned, I wonder what tangible actions we can take to change this systemic oppression, inequality, and chaos?

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