'Near poor' increasing in American life
Many suburban households just breaking even, statistics say
Statistics from the Census Bureau suggest that while many Americans may give off the appearance of affluence, they are in fact, "near poor." These households have both mom and dad working, and all the needs of the children are being made, but one bad debt or bill threatens to uproot the proverbial apple cart. Many Americans report as having no "wiggle room" when meeting their monthly obligations.
A family of four that makes $51,000 annually can be considered 'near poor' if a big chunk of their income goes towards taxes, medical expenses and travel expenses.
In short, 100 million people . or one in three Americans is either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.
Stagnant wages coupled with the worst downturn since the Great Depression has created a bleak national mood. This in turn has prompted sharp reactions from both sides of the political spectrum, such as the Occupy Wall Street protestors on the left and the tea party rhetoric offered from the right. Both convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure.
The Census Bureau, which published the poverty data two weeks ago, produced the analysis of those with somewhat higher income at the request of The New York Times. The size of the near-poor population took even the bureau by surprise.
"These numbers are higher than we anticipated," Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau's chief poverty statistician says. "There are more people struggling than the official numbers show."
"Near poor" is not a phrase that the government officially uses. A family of four can fall into this range, adjusted for regional living costs, with an income of up to $25,500 in rural North Dakota or $51,000 in Silicon Valley.
Economists, while disturbed by the high statistics, say the figures now gibe with what was previously known about stagnant wages.
"It's very consistent with everything we've been hearing in the last few years about families' struggle, earnings not keeping up for the bottom half," Sheila Zedlewski, a researcher at the Urban Institute says.
A new method entitled the Supplemental Poverty Measure, counts all those factors and adjusts for differences in the cost of living, which the official measure ignores. The measure shows less severe destitution, but a bit more overall poverty; fewer poor children, but more poor people over 65.
For example, a family of four that makes $51,000 annually can be considered "near poor" if a big chunk of their income goes towards taxes, medical expenses and travel expenses.
© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Keywords: Near poor, poverty levels, statistics, middle class, suburbs
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