In the United States, the official poverty rate for 2012 stood at 15 percent based on the national poverty line which is equivalent to around $16 per person per day. Of the 46.5 million Americans living in poverty, 20.4 million live under half the poverty line. This begs the question of just how poor America’s poorest people are.
Using an alternative dataset from the one employed for the official U.S. poverty measure, Shaefer and Edin show that millions of Americans live on less than $2 a day—a threshold commonly used to measure poverty in the developing world. Depending on the exact definitions used, they find that up to 5 percent of American households with children are shown to fall under this parsimonious poverty line.
These numbers are intended to shock—and they succeed. The United States is known for having higher inequality and a less generous social safety net than many affluent countries in Europe, but the acute deprivations that flow from this are less understood. A crude comparison of Shaefer and Edin’s estimates with the World Bank’s official $2 a day poverty estimates for developing economies would place the United States level with or behind a large set of countries, including Russia (0.1 percent), the West Bank and Gaza (0.3 percent), Jordan (1.6 percent), Albania (1.7 percent), urban Argentina (1.9 percent), urban China (3.5 percent), and Thailand (4.1 percent). Many of these countries are recipients of American foreign aid. However, methodologies for measuring poverty differ wildly both within and across countries, so such comparisons and their interpretation demand extreme care.
When we take a closer look at poverty in America, we must understand that poverty is greatest among the most vulnerable of the population. Looking at Mississippi, which is ranked 51st, meaning even Puerto Rico ranks above it, the overall poverty rate is a staggering 24.2%! That is 1 in four who live in poverty! However, it gets worse when you drill down further into the numbers. The child poverty rate is 34.7%, which is one of every three children in Mississippi living in poverty. This clearly demonstrates the third world nature of the scope of the poverty in the US. The poverty rate for people with disabilities is also deplorable at 30.4%.
You can explore where your state stands in detail at http://www.povertyusa.org/the-state-of-poverty/poverty-map-state/#. What you discover may surprise you and what is apparent is that children and people with disabilities are most adversely affected by poverty.
What is more surprising is where the US ranks in the world related to child poverty. A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty. More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line, which UNICEF defines as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median. The United States ranks 34th of the 35 countries surveyed, above only Romania and below virtually all of Europe plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
The map below gives a comparative sense of the data. The blue countries have less than 10 percent of its children below UNICEF’s relative poverty line, with the red countries approaching 25 percent. Southern European countries, among the most effected by the euro crisis, have some of the worst rates, although none as low as the United States. Former Soviet countries also score poorly. Northern European countries score the highest. English-speaking countries tend to fall somewhere in the middle.
The poor U.S. showing in this data reflects growing income inequality. According to one metric of inequality, a statistical measurement called the gini coefficient, the U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world. This would explain why the United States, on child poverty, is ranked between Bulgaria and Romania, though Americans are on average six times richer than Bulgarians and Romanians.
Here, from the UNICEF report, is the chart of relative child poverty rates (the grey countries are marked separately because they could not provide data for all other indices and are thus not included in the final rankings):
And finally, when you compare the poverty rate among children in the US and compare it to what we think are the poorest nations in Africa, we would rank worse than some countries that would surprise you.
Does this appall you? Does this make you understand the real danger to the America ideal and standing in the world? We should be outraged that we have allowed our leaders to drain our treasures, take the fruits of our labor and fritter them away on wars, and war machines. Without meaning to be too harsh, we are directly responsible for this deplorable state of affairs by our apathetic attitude toward politics. We must understand the raping of America is on-going and if we don’t soon stand up to these political hacks and corporate cronies soon, there will be no one capable of standing because of poverty, hunger, and ignorance. Those ads on TV showing the starving children of the world that pull on your heart strings may have your grand kids photos featured. This is the canary in the mine for the real collapse of America and it already died! Let’s get pissed!