NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Temporary Poverty

March 22, 1999

Most Americans spend at least a year or more during their lives with incomes below the official poverty line, according to data developed by Mark R. Rank of Washington University in St. Louis and Thomas A. Hirschl of Cornell University.

  • By the age of 75, some 52.6 percent of white Americans and 91 percent of black Americans will have had incomes below the federal poverty level for at least one year after they turned 20.
  • Based on average life expectancies, 20-year-olds today have about a 60 percent chance of having their annual income dip below the poverty line at some point in their lives.
  • Many young adults accept entry-level jobs that pay low wages -- but soon move on to more lucrative opportunities.
  • Later in life, divorce, corporate downsizing or a major illness may push others into poverty -- even though they may continue to live reasonably well on accumulated savings and investments, or through the kindness of relatives.

The researchers found that the pool of poor people changes dramatically from year to year.

Source: Richard Morin, "The Odds of Being Poor," Washington Post, March 21, 1999.


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