More Young American Families Poor Than Ever Before: Census

   on September 20 2011 10:13 AM
At Issue: Poverty in America
In the United States, 1 in 15 people now live in extreme poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. REUTERS

More than a third of young American families with children were living in poverty last year, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data that offers the latest indicator of spreading poverty in America.

In all, 37 percent of the country's young families -- defined as under the age of 30 -- slipped below the poverty line in 2010, eclipsing the previous high of 36 percent set in 1993, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. That is drastically lower than the poverty rate of 5.7 percent for elderly couples, a discrepancy that reflects the immense obstacles young people face in an economy short on opportunity.

Young families with children are now six times as likely to be poor as elderly families, Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern and the director of the center, told The New York Times. This is a major generational change. From a public policy standpoint, we should be very deeply troubled by this.

Low-Skilled More Likely to Be in Poverty

The rising level of poverty has its roots in a broader economic shift that precedes the current recession, as the decline of low-skilled jobs has placed a premium on education. The gap between people with and without a college degree has widened considerably over the past few decades, Harvard Graduate School of Education's Richard Murnane told the Times.

Dropping out of high school in 1970 was much less costly than dropping out of high school now, Richard Murnane said. That's purely a function of changes in the economy.

Census data also showed that young Americans bore a disproportionate burden of poverty, as children last year comprised 35 percent of people who were poor last year but only 24 percent of the population.

The grim report follows an analysis finding that the poverty rate had climbed to a 20-year high of 15.1 percent as wages for middle class families stagnated.

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