That brought up several questions for me: Are 25% of Americans really poor? How do we define “poverty?” And how does poverty in the U.S. compare with that in other countries?
I found some answers in a paper, “How Poor are America’s Poor?“, published in August 2007 by Robert Rector, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation. First, the numbers. Rector cites data from the 2005 Census Bureau showing the U.S. with 37 million poor people, or 12.6% of our population—about half of my Twitter correspondent’s estimate.
Then the definition. I think of “poor” as being unable to meet basic needs for nutritious food, adequate housing and clothing, medical care, and transportation. In a 2005 poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the overwhelming majority of responses agreed with that definition.
This perception of poverty certainly squares with that promoted by politicians and others desiring more help for the poor. The Census Bureau, however, defines poverty as a family of four having a household income of less than $22,350 a year.