The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty — and It’s Creeping toward 75%

Source: AlterNet

The Census Bureau has reported that one out of six Americans lives in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much worse. Inequality is spreading like a shadowy disease through our country, infecting more and more households, and leaving a shrinking number of financially secure families to maintain the charade of prosperity.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009

Analysis of  Economic Policy Institute data shows that Mitt Romney’s famous  47 percent, the alleged ‘takers,’ have taken nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets in 2009.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later

Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An  OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year  decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have  replaced formerly secure middle-income positions.

3. Over half of Americans are now IN poverty.

According to IRS data, the average household in the bottom 50% brings in about $18,000 per year. That’s less than the  poverty line for a family of three ($19,000) or a family of four ($23,000).

4. 75% of Americans are NEAR poverty.

The average household in the bottom 75% earns about  $31,000 per year. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to  130% of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.

Incredibly, Congress is trying to  cut food assistance. Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher of Tennessee referred to food stamps as “stealing.” He added a Biblical quote: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” A recent  jobs hearing in Washington was attended by  one Congressman.

5. Putting it in Perspective

Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just  20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire  2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the  foodhousing, andeducation budgets combined.

Mr. Fincher should think about the tax breaks that allow this to happen, and then tell us who’s stealing from whom.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites, and, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached


  • Dr William Mount

    Wake up America

  • Aqualung

    While I’m wholly on your side I have to say that a more accurate interpetation of the data would serve you better.

    Sorry, but one of these things is not like the other :(

    “3. Over half of Americans are now IN poverty.”

    “According to IRS data, the average household in the bottom 50% brings in about $18,000 per year.”

    That the AVERAGE is under the poverty line does not mean that the whole 50% is under the poverty line.

    In the absense of any more detailed data, common sense suggests that a little under half of the sample are above the poverty line.

    i.e. about 20%. That leaves around 30% below the line. Still far too high but without the ammunition that the nay sayers would leap on when an innacurate claim of 50% is made.

    Likewise the claim of 75% being near poverty. The figures supplied simply don’t support the argument.

    Again, a substantial portion of the 75% are above the average, probably close to half of them. Thus a figure of around 40% would have been more credible.

    You do yourself a disservice by misstating the real situation.