Up to a third of Americans experience economic hardship

Nearly two in three African Americans (65 percent) report a direct connection to poverty, while 59 percent of Hispanics say the same....

Up to a third of Americans experience economic hardship

World Bulletin / News Desk

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional War on Poverty” in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. Since then, the policies implemented, coupled with the civil rights advances of the era and the overall strong economy in the 1960s, led to a reduction in the number of people living in poverty from around 19 percent to a historic low of 11.1 percent by the early 1970s.

Despite the improvements in poverty reduction, economic opportunities, such as decent-paying jobs, a secure retirement, affordable health care, and education, have diminished for many Americans in the bottom end of the income distribution as income and wealth have taken off for those at the very top.

The financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the subsequent Great Recession further highlighted the breakdown of the U.S. economy and the ongoing struggle many people face finding employment, decent wages, and secure and supportive communities for raising and educating their children.

With this context, the Center for American Progress (CAP) set out to determine what Americans know and believe about poverty and assess their retrospective opinions about the War on Poverty itself and their support or opposition to new proposals for fighting poverty in the future. The CAP report includes results from focus groups and a major survey of more than 2,000 American adults, including significant oversamples of Millennials, African Americans, and Latinos, to assess attitudes among these important constituencies.

The most important findings from the research include:

One-quarter to one-third of Americans—and even higher percentages of Millennials and ethnic minorities—continue to experience direct economic hardship. Sixty-one percent of Americans say their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living, compared to just 8 percent who feel they are getting ahead and 29 percent who feel they are staying even. Twenty-five percent to 34 percent of Americans report serious problems falling behind in rent, mortgage, or utilities payments or being unable to buy enough food, afford necessary medical care, or keep up with minimum credit card payments. While these numbers have somewhat retreated over the past five years, they are still shockingly high, and the disparities across demographic groups underscore how uneven the current recovery has been.

A majority of Americans have a direct personal connection to poverty. Fifty-four percent of Americans say that someone in their immediate or extended families is poor, a figure that has actually increased 2 percentage points since CAP conducted its first poll in 2008. Nearly two in three African Americans (65 percent) report a direct connection to poverty, while 59 percent of Hispanics say the same.

Americans vastly overestimate the annual income necessary to be officially considered poor. Perhaps expressing a more realistic understanding of the economy than official government measures currently capture, Americans on average estimate that it takes just more than $30,000 in annual income for a family of four to be considered officially in poverty—about $7,000 more than the government’s poverty line of $23,550 for a household of four.

Americans now believe that nearly 40 percent of their fellow citizens are living in poverty. When CAP conducted its 2008 poll, 13.2 percent of Americans were living below the federal poverty line, but CAP survey found that Americans guessed the number to be 29 percent. Today, with unemployment closer to pre-financial crisis levels and a recovery ostensibly underway for several years, government statistics says that 15 percent of Americans live below the poverty level. The public, however, believes that number is now 39 percent—a stunning 10-percentage-point increase that flies in the face of economic indicators such as the unemployment rate, consumer confidence, the financial markets, and gross domestic product, or GDP.

Americans strongly believe that poverty is primarily the result of a failed economy rather than the result of personal decisions and lack of effort. Nearly two in three Americans (64 percent) agree more with a structural argument about the causes of poverty. A majority agree that “Most people who live in poverty are poor because their jobs don’t pay enough, they lack good health care and education, and things cost too much for them to save and get ahead,” underscoring the current economy’s failings in the areas of wages, health care, education, and cost of living.

In contrast, only 25 percent of Americans agree more with a personal cause: “Most people who live in poverty are poor because they make bad decisions or act irresponsibly in their own lives.” Even white conservatives and libertarians prefer the structural vision of a failed economy to personal reasons for poverty by a wide margin of 63 percent to 29 percent, respectively.

* Americans across ideological and partisan lines believe the government has a responsibility to use its resources to fight poverty. An overwhelming percentage of Americans—86 percent—agrees that the government has a responsibility to use some of its resources to combat poverty. Moreover, a majority (61 percent) feels that the War on Poverty has made a difference—albeit not a major difference—in achieving its goals; 41 percent say the War on Poverty has made a minor difference; and 20 percent say it has made a major difference. Retrospective evaluations of the War on Poverty, however, are heavily divided by ideology, partisanship, and race. Nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) white liberals and progressives believe the War on Poverty has worked, and more than 6 in 10 (64 percent) white conservatives and libertarians believe the opposite.

Despite mixed feelings about the original War on Poverty, there is strong support for a more realistic goal of reducing poverty by half over the next 10 years. Asked whether they would support or oppose “the president and Congress setting a national goal to cut poverty in the United States in half within 10 years,” 7 in 10 Americans said they would support such a goal—40 percent of the public would strongly support the goal—and only 22 percent would oppose it. Support for a national goal of cutting poverty in half is very strong among African Americans (87 percent support and 58 percent strongly support) and reaches roughly 80 percent among both Millennials (79 percent) and Latinos (79 percent). Sixty-five percent of whites support this goal, as do a majority of Democrats (89 percent), independents (66 percent), and Republicans (54 percent).

The public is clear about its priorities for reducing poverty: jobs, wages, and education. Asked which two areas they believe are most important for new investments, 40 percent of Americans choose creating jobs and increasing wages; 30 percent choose job training and workplace preparation; 25 percent choose elementary and secondary education; 23 percent choose college access and affordability; and 21 percent choose early childhood education.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ocak 2014, 17:40