Monday, October 12, 2009

Race vs. class in the USA: poverty

This is an updated version of several old posts, inspired by the following observation from Dale Maharidge Interview: Covering The Economic Pain Of Real Americans:
Four-fifths of us who work for salaries or wages make less than $20 an hour. This is a poor country. We're a nation of the working poor, and it's something that people don't want to acknowledge.
For most of my life, I would have guessed that the worst poverty in the US was in Watts, Appalachia, or Mississippi. Not true. From The Poorest Part of America*:
Virtually all of the 20 poorest counties in America, in terms of wages, are on the eastern flank of the Rockies or on the western Great Plains...
The race of the people in the poorest part of the US? is largely white. The area does include several pockets of wretched Native American poverty, but in most areas the poor are as white as a prairie snowstorm.
From U.S. economy leaving record numbers in severe poverty:
...nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period...
Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Hispanics of any race (3.7 million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be in deep poverty, while Hispanics are roughly twice as likely.
According to the US Census Bureau’s Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005,  the racial makeup of poverty in the United States of America looks like this:
Asian persons in poverty: 992,856 (2.92%)
Black or African American persons in poverty: 9,168,000 (25.17%)
Hispanic or Latino persons in poverty: 9,368,000 (22.68%)
non-Hispanic Whites persons in poverty: 16,227,000 (49.23%)
It's very true that US poverty is racially disproportionate. According to the U. S. Census Bureau Poverty: 2004 Highlights, comparing the percentage of poverty within racial groups to the general population gives this result:
Poverty rates remained unchanged for Blacks (24.7 percent) and Hispanics (21.9 percent), rose for non-Hispanic Whites (8.6 percent in 2004, up from 8.2 percent in 2003) and decreased for Asians (9.8 percent in 2004, down from 11.8 percent in 2003).
Regardless of race, in the US, you have very little real hope of rising to a higher economic class. (See the "Country by Country" graph at the New York Times article, A Closer Look at Income Mobility.)

Thinking of poverty as a racial problem ignores 49% of the problem. Poverty is a human problem, and the solution is the same for all racial categories: better work, housing, food, health care, education... Poverty does not need to be made "proportionate." It needs to be eliminated.

* Linked to a blog because that's from an Economist article that you have to pay to view.