How Poor Are We?

American progressives have long been concerned about the growing wealth gap in the United States; the country’s resources are increasingly controlled by a small group of people.

But what about the rest of us? Conservative economists argue that a few very rich people aren’t so bad because America is productive enough to ensure prosperity for everyone else too. It doesn’t matter if members of Walton family have private jets; we have ipods and air conditioners. A few rich people are getting richer, but what’s happening to the recourses of everyone else? How bad is American poverty?

The Census Bureau reported last year that the poverty rate was 15.0 percent. That’s not good news—that’s 46.2 million people in poverty—but it looks reasonable for an advanced country, especially one still in a slow economy.

But it turns out that’s not really true. That 15 percent number grossly understates true poverty. According to a piece at Salon:

Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty.

The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130% of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.

What’s more, almost half of Americans, 47 percent of us according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, had no assets at all in 2009.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer