Poverty in the United States

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Povertyin the United States

Althoughthe United States has one of the largest economies, it has an equalshare of the population of extremely poor people. Being a capitaliststate, the U.S. supports policies that create an environment for allpeople to accumulate wealth without harming other people. However,there are some groups of people that are natural disadvantaged andchances of getting themselves out of poverty are quite minimal. Thesegroups include the immigrants, especially Latinos, women, and blackAmericans who suffered from historic injustices, such as slavery andoppression by men for many years (Scheidel 4). This paper willaddress the issue of poverty in the U.S. with a focus on existinginequalities, causes of inequalities, current poverty alleviationmeasures, and the future of poverty in the U.S.


Thehistory of poverty among Americans is traced from the 1800s, when themajority of those living outside the southern states were extremelypoor. These Americans were described as chiefly orphans, people toosick or too old to engage in commercial activities, widows, andseasonal workers (U.S. History 1). The laws were quite poor andrequired each township to take care of its poor residents. The highlevel of poverty in the 1800s was attributed to several factors,including industrialization that was followed by immigration andeconomic crisis of 1830s-1850s (U.S. History 1). Initial measures ofreducing poverty failed because policy developers of the timebelieved that poverty was caused by the individual characteristics ofthe poor people including ignorance, laziness, and sexualpromiscuity. Different measures of alleviating poverty were tried,but most of them were still ineffective. For example, the U.S had thehighest poverty rate in the year 1930 compared with other developednations, where California had a rate of 23.8 % (Berlinger 1).However, most of those living in extreme poverty were the minoritygroups, especially them black Americans.

Currenttrends and statistics on poverty in the U.S

Thegovernment had managed to reduce poverty by the year 2009, where thissuccess was attributed to increase in the Social Security benefits.The rate of poverty was estimated to be 13.2 %, but still themajority of those affected came from the minority group (Smith 1).The 2008 financial crisis pushed a group of the middle class familiesand some individual Americans back to poverty, which increased therate of poor adults to 14 % and that of poor children to 18 % by theyear 2012 (Feeding America 2). The increase in the cost of living andinflation has created a need for reviewing the standards used tomeasure levels of poverty, where close to half of the nationalpopulation is either considered to be low income families andindividuals or poor citizens. The 2014 statistics indicate that about15 % (close to 46.7 million people) live in poverty where 15.5 adultsand 18 % children are affected (Feeding America 2). About 48.1million of them have a limited access to food supplies and depend onthe government sponsored food programs. On the basis of racialdisparity, the poor white Americans are 9.9 %, Hispanic is 26.6 %,and the black Americans are 27.4 % (Feeding America 2). This confirmsthe racial disparity in terms of poverty rates in the U.S.

Causesof poverty inequality in the U.S


Thehigh rate of poverty among the minority groups can be traced back tothe years of slavery. The white Americans took advantage of the blackAmericans and used to accumulate wealth at zero labor cost (Scheidel4). The enslaved black Americans worked in commercial farms that grewdifferent crops, such as cotton and sugar cane and earned nothing forproviding labor to their white masters. It is estimated that slaverylasted for about 245 years (1620-1865), which means that severalgenerations of black Americans were deprived of their human dignityand denied the opportunity to accumulate any wealth, while theirwhite counterparts took almost anything (Scheidel 4). It goes withoutsaying that the current generation of the white Americans had a lotto inherit from their forefathers, while the black Americans hadnothing. The other minority groups, such as the Hispanic population,have been immigrating into the U.S. in search of better opportunities(including jobs and businesses), which makes them quite poorercompared to the white Americans, but relatively better off than theblack Americans.


Discriminationagainst groups that are considered as minority takes different forms,but they all contribute towards disparity in the rate of poverty. Thefirst type of discrimination occurs at the level of seeking foreconomic opportunities, especially the employment. It is much harderfor a black American to find a job, followed by Hispanic, the thenthe white Americans with the same levels of qualification. Forexample, current trends indicate that about 7.2 % of the whites, 14.1of the black Americans, and 10.2 Hispanic and other minor races areunemployed (Face the Facts 1). This implies that the whites and otherminor races have more opportunities to get themselves out of povertycompared to black Americans.

Thesecond type of discrimination affects the few members of the minoritygroups who secure some employment opportunities. These people arepaid less compared to white workers. Disparity in-terms of wagemainly affect women and black Americans. Research shows that a blackAmerican man earned 75.1 % of the amount that a white man earned,white woman earned 78 %, a Hispanic man 67.2 % a Hispanic womanearned 64 % while a black woman earned 54 % (Face the Facts 1). Thefact that a white American earns better compared to a member ofminority groups with similar skills and experience implies that theseracial and gender groups have different chances of elevating povertyin their respective families.

Thethird type of discrimination involves prejudice that is prevalentwithin the judicial system. Although the association between povertyand discrimination within the judicial system is rarely studies, somescholars have associated with the incarceration of energetic youthsfrom the minority groups with slow economic progress achieved bythese populations (Strauss 3). All forms of discrimination affect theminority groups, which intensifies poverty disparity in the U.S.

Differenceseducational attainment

Inmost cases, the level of education of individual people determinestheir chances of securing a job and succeeding in career as well asin business. This implies that people who are able to access highereducation are less likely to live in poverty as compared to thosewith limited chances of acquiring secondary as well as tertiaryeducation. Table 1 shows education disparities at different levelsfor black Americans and the whites.

Table1: Education disparity

Academic level

White (%)

Black Americas (%)

Less than high school



High school level



College level












Source:Cook (1)

FromTable 1, the minority groups are disadvantaged at the associate,bachelors, and advanced levels that comprise of the majority of theworking class. This disparity is associated with many factors,including the lack of funds to pursue higher education, being deniedthe opportunity to on the best schools, and hopelessness studentsfrom minority groups, which in turn increase chances of dropping outof school. For an instant, about 16 % of the black America studentsdrop out at the high school level as compared to 8 % of the whiteAmerican students (Cook, 1). Dropping out of school limits chances ofeconomic progress, which in turn increase probabilities of living inpoverty.

Measurestaken to contain poverty in the U.S

Constructionof alleviation strategies that can help the state learn fromexperience

TheU.S. government acknowledges the fact that poverty is a product of amixture of challenges, which means that a single intervention cannotalleviate it. To this end, the government understands that effectivestrategies should incorporate the best practices, concrete goals, andopportunities for continuous improvement (Bane 2). The currentmeasures emphasize on the identification of specific causes ofpoverty among different groups. For example, the federal governmenthas already identified that Latinos are poor because most of themimmigrate when they are already poor and their chances of progressare very minimal (Bane 3). Poverty among the Native Americans, on theother hand, has been associated with a mixture of economic, social,and cultural issues. The initiative of identifying the specificcauses of poverty in different communities will help the governmentdevelop specific poverty alleviation strategies for each group.


Americansliving in poverty find it difficult to meet their nutritional needs,and the lack of adequate support can exacerbate their poverty.Helping these people access food for themselves and for theirfamilies can enhance their nutritional and health status, thusempowering them to address other less pressing challenges (Bane 5).Currently, the U.S. government has identified the Food Stamp programas the key tool for alleviating nutritional problems and hunger amongthe vulnerable groups, including the poor minority groups. Althoughthis program has been used for many years, the government has made astep further by making it easier for the affected people to getassistance. In addition, the program has, in the past, focused on thevolume of foods given to the affected Americans, but it is nowaddressing the components as well as the nutritional value of thefoods.

Addressingissues of incarceration

Thegovernment acknowledges the fact that the incarceration of youthsfrom the minority groups has played a role in increases the rate ofpoverty in those groups. Several measures have been taken to reducethe disproportionate imprisonment of youths from minor races. Forexample, educational programs for the public as well as the publicofficials on the impact that incarceration of youths has on theircommunities have been rolled out (Bane 9). In addition, state as wellas federal governments have been collaborating to ease reentry andchange policies with the objective of rationalizing policies thataddress the issue of sentencing. These strategies are founded on theidea that helped youths who have undergone the correction systemreenter into their respective communities will make it easier forthem to engage in economically productive activities. By doing this,the government will allow the judicial system to continue correctingthe youths, but still allow corrected youths contribute towards theeconomic development of their families and their respectivecommunities.

Thefuture of poverty in the U.S

Althoughthe government sounds committed to address poverty and inequalitiesthat exist among the U.S. society, the aforementioned measures areshort-term and their impact is likely to be very minimal. This isbecause the government has failed to address the core factors thatmake the most significant contribution towards the current status ofthe poorest groups. For example, giving food stamps to the blackAmericans who cannot access the secondary as well as tertiaryeducation will only enhance their current situation, but they havethe means of getting out of poverty in the near future (Berlinger 1).This implies that poverty and inequality among Americans is morelikely to increase in the future than the decline. Effective measuresshould include provision of equal opportunity in the field ofeducation, preventing discrimination in wages, and employment. Thisis because the government cannot alleviate poverty by giving food tothe poor, but by giving them the means to work, earn, and buy food.


TheU.S. is currently considered as the nation with the largest economyand ranks top in the list of developed countries. However, there is alarge proportion of its population living in poverty to an extentthat it cannot afford food. Poverty mainly affects the people ofcolor and other minority groups, such as women more than the whitemen. The current as well as the previous measures (such as FoodStamp) taken by the government have not achieved the desiredobjectives since they are either short-term in nature or fail toaddress the underlying causes of poverty. The government needs toempower the vulnerable groups through education and fair treatment inthe labor market in order to fight poverty in the long-run.


Bane,M. Povertyreduction strategies for the U.S.Cambridge, MA: Harvard Kennedy School, 2008. Print.

Berlinger,J. A new poverty calculation yields some surprising results. BusinessInsider Inc.15 November. 2012. Web. 7 December 2015.

Cook,L. U.S. education: Still separate and unequal. U.S.News.28 January. 2015. Web. 7 December 2015.

Facethe Facts. The color of unemployment. Facethe Facts.2015. Web. 7 December 2015.

FeedingAmerica. Hunger and poverty. FeedingAmerica.2015. Web. 7 December 2015.

Scheidel,W. Thecomparative economics of slavery in the Greco-Roman World.Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2005. Print.

Smith,D. Poverty rate hits 15-year high. Reuters.17 September. Web. 7 December 2015.

Strauss,V. The way out of the black poverty cycle. WashingtonPost.31 May. 2013. Web. 7 December 2015.

U.S.History. Poverty. CengageLearning.2015. Web. 7 December 2015.

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