Signs of Declining Economic Security

August 5, 2013

Four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream, says the Associated Press.

The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration's emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to "rebuild ladders of opportunity" and reverse income inequality.

  • Hardship is particularly on the rise among whites, based on several measures.
  • Pessimism among that racial group about their families' economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987.
  • In the most recent AP-GFK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy "poor."

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

The gauge defines "economic insecurity" as experiencing unemployment at some point in their working lives, or a year or more of reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Sometimes termed "the invisible poor" by demographers, lower-income whites are generally dispersed in suburbs as well as small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white.

Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are also numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America's heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains.

  • More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation's destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.
  • In 2011 that snapshot showed 12.6 percent of adults in their prime working-age years of 25-60 lived in poverty.
  • But measured in terms of a person's lifetime risk, a much higher number (four in 10 adults) falls into poverty for at least a year of their lives.

Source: Hope Yen, "Signs of Declining Economic Security," Associated Press, July 28, 2013.

 

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