Sunday 19th September 2021

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  • Who are the poor Americans?

    poors-americansMillions of jobs have been created in the US economy, but many Americans still live in poverty. Who are they?

    For nearly six years, the US economy has been generating huge numbers of jobs: nearly two million a year.

    Not only has the economic recovery replaced the total number of jobs lost during the Great Recession – which followed the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007 – but it has added enough to account for a growing population as well.

    Unemployment in the US now stands at just 4.1%, the lowest since 2000, but there are many households which have not seen their fortunes improve.

    In 2016 nearly 41 million people, or 13% of the population, were living in poverty – down from 15% at the height of the recession in 2010.

    So, who are those classed as living in poverty?


    Of those living in poverty, the 2016 figures show that there are about 13.3 million children – 18% of those under the age of 18.

    As the population has aged, the number of over-65s in poverty has increased to 4.6 million but, at 9%, the poverty rate is lower than for those of working age (18-64).

    It is this working-age group which provides perhaps the most striking picture, with nearly 23 million – or almost 12% – living in poverty.

    The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution has been exploring this puzzle.

    Among the working-age group we found that:

    The fact that roughly four out of 10 working-age adults in poverty are employed highlights the fact that simply closing what we have called “the jobs gap” – returning to the pre-recession employment level after adjusting for population growth and aging – does not mean that everyone is thriving.

    It also does not mean everyone finds, or takes up, employment.

    The fact remains that well over half of working-age adults in poverty are not in the labour force.

    Of the jobs created, many are in hospitality, management, healthcare and IT, although some of the areas hit hardest by the recession – like construction and manufacturing – have not yet fully recovered.

    A picture of the US workforce reveals a number of differences across society:

    The number of men aged 25-54 who are employed has been falling for more than 50 years and for women since 2000.

    In part, this may be a consequence of falling real wages among the lowest earners, with median personal income now $31,100 (£23,200).

    It is possible that many of those who are not in the workforce would have difficulty finding employment without significant government intervention.

    More than a fifth of those of working-age who are living in poverty are classified as disabled and another 15% are caregivers.

    Moving more carers into employment may require improved childcare availability and funding, while many disabled adults may need more support or treatment.


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