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Of Poverty In The Population

By Bernard

Is poverty different for different groups in the population?

The poverty rate represents an average over the entire population, and does not really tell us who, in particular, is well off, who is worse off. For that, it is necessary to examine poverty levels for particular groups. Most notably, blacks and Hispanics have poverty rates that greatly exceed the average. The poverty rate for all blacks and Hispanics remained near 30 percent during the 1980s and mid-1990s. Thereafter it began to fall. In 2000, the rate for blacks dropped to 22.1 percent and for Hispanics to 21.2 percent—the lowest rate for both groups since the United States began measuring poverty. In 2001, the rates were 22.7 for blacks and 21.4 for Hispanics. Among children under age 18, 16.3 percent, or 11.7 million children, lived in poverty. The poverty rate for the aged, which in 1959 exceeded the overall poverty rate, fell below it beginning in 1982. In 2000 it was 10.2 percent. The poverty rate for whites who were not Hispanic was below the overall poverty rate from 1959 through 2001. In 2001 it was 7.8 percent.

Of all family groups, poverty is highest among those headed by single women, especially if they are black or Hispanic. In 2001, 26.4 percent of all female-headed families were poor, compared to 4.9 percent of families in which males were present. Among black and Hispanic families headed by women, poverty rates exceeded 35 percent.

Poverty levels also differ depending on where people live. The metropolitan poverty rate differs greatly between suburbs and the inner city. In 1979, the average central city poverty rate was 15.7 percent; at its highest point, in 1993, it was 21.5; by 2001 it was 16.5 percent, but was still over twice the rate for the suburbs (8.2 percent). Poverty in rural areas is not negligible either; in 2001, 14.2 percent of people living outside metropolitan areas (that is, in the countryside and small country towns), were poor.

The poverty rate also varies by region and within regions. In 2001 it was greatest in the South, at 13.5 percent, and lowest in the Midwest, at 9.4 percent. Over the years 1998–2000, the poverty rate was lowest in the state of Maryland (7.3 percent)—yet in the adjacent District of Columbia, it stood at 17.3 percent.