Study: economic insecurity affects 4 out of 5 Americans

The Associated Press’ Hope Yen recently published an eye-opening piece about the extent of financial insecurity in America. 80% of American adults are dealing with unemployment, the prospect of slipping into poverty, or having to turn to the government to help them meet life’s most basic needs.

“Hardship is particularly growing among whites,” Yen states.

Will the reality of economic insecurity change how Americans– and the politicians who represent them– view those struggling with unemployment, underemployment,  or poverty?

Zach Carter, of the Huffington Post, suggested that if policymakers understood just how widespread financial insecurity is in America, they might take the issue more seriously, rather than dismissing it as something that affects only a small minority of their constituents. He also points out that as more Americans experience job loss– whether it’s extended or temporary– they and their loves ones will have increased empathy for American struggling to make ends meet.

“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them’, it’s an issue of ‘us’,” said Mark Rank of Washington University in St. Louis. “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.”

More findings (Yen’s words, my emphasis):

  • For the first time since 1975, the number of white single-mother households living in poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade, spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock births among whites. White single-mother families in poverty stood at nearly 1.5 million in 2011, comparable to the number for blacks. Hispanic single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million.
  • Since 2000, the poverty rate among working-class whites has grown faster than among working-class nonwhites, rising 3 percentage points to 11 percent as the recession took a bigger toll among lower-wage workers. Still, poverty among working-class nonwhites remains higher, at 23 percent.
  • The share of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods – those with poverty rates of 30 percent or more – has increased to 1 in 10, putting them at higher risk of teenage pregnancy or dropping out of school.
  • Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 17 percent of the child population in such neighborhoods, compared with 13 percent in 2000, even though the overall proportion of white children in the U.S. has been declining.
  • The share of black children in high-poverty neighborhoods dropped from 43 percent to 37 percent, while the share of Latino children went from 38 percent to 39 percent.
  • Race disparities in health and education have narrowed generally since the 1960s. While residential segregation remains high, a typical black person now lives in a nonmajority black neighborhood for the first time.
  • Previous studies have shown that wealth is a greater predictor of standardized test scores than race; the test-score gap between rich and low-income students is now nearly double the gap between blacks and whites.

How is economic insecurity affecting your community? Do you feel that people are more empathetic to those who are struggling since the economic downturn? Share your thoughts below or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear your insights.

About Holly

Holly Jensen is a writer and poet who has worked with nonprofits and businesses for over a decade. She also serves as editor of The Ghazal Page, an international literary journal.
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