WASHINGTON (January 18, 2001) -- Americans say that poverty is ranked high on their list of concerns--when asked a direct question about it. But when asked about societal concerns in general, poverty ranks low in America's consciousness.
That's the conclusion drawn from the Poverty Pulse Survey released in early January as part of Poverty in America Awareness Month. The Poverty Pulse survey was conducted nationwide on behalf of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), sponsor of the month-long poverty awareness campaign. CCHD is one of the nation's largest contributors of self-help projects initiated and led by the impoverished. The Campaign serves as the national anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is supported by an annual collection in Catholic parishes.
When asked to name the single biggest problem facing American society today, only 3 percent of respondents cited poverty as a major concern. Immorality, with 9 percent, and drug and alcohol abuse, with 8 percent, topped the list of concerns. Even among low-income respondents who participated in a slightly different survey, poverty merited only a 7 percent mention. That group's highest concern was racism and discrimination, with 13 percent.
However, when asked specifically if poverty is a concern, 87 percent said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned. In the survey of low-income respondents, 94 percent said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned.
Almost half (49 percent) of the general population is concerned they could be poor at some point in their lives. That figure increases to 59 percent for those with less than a high school education and to 72 percent for those earning between $15,000 and $24,900.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a family of four earning less than $17,184, a year is below the poverty level. Rev. Robert J. Vitillo, CCHD executive director, said that more than 32 million Americans live in poverty-enough people to populate the second largest state in the nation if grouped together. "Despite the enormous number of people living in poverty, it is a telling statistic that poverty is not an immediate, top-of-the mind concern with the public," Father Vitillo said. "It's also curious to note that nearly half the population worries about falling into poverty someday, but deny that this concern is on their minds every day."
The Poverty Pulse also showed that:
- One third of all adults (33 percent) claim to have lived in poverty at some point in their lives. Those with household incomes of less than $15,000 were more likely than those in high income levels to indicate that they lived in poverty (38 percent).
- Poverty is closely identified with homelessness among the general population. When asked what it means to be poor in America, 25 percent used homelessness as an example. No money or low income was cited by 24 percent. Among the low-income respondents, only 13 percent cited homelessness. Twenty-one percent said that not being able to make ends meet was a concern and 15 percent said that no/not enough money was their major concern.
- Many people with low incomes do not consider themselves as living in poverty. Fifty-nine percent described themselves as "low income," 13 percent said "middle income" and 24 percent said "poor."
- Forty-four percent of all adults say that within the last year they have given money to an organization helping the poor and 16 percent got involved with or encouraged community-based organizations to address poverty and injustice. More than half (55 percent) of the low-income groups said the best way to help the poor was to get involved in such organizations.
- More than half of the general population (52 percent) agreed that it is everyone's responsibility to help the poor, followed by the government (39 percent) and the poor themselves (16 percent). More than three fourths of the low-income respondents (79 percent) suggested that the government should be the key player, followed by everyone (73 percent), churches (56 percent), the poor themselves and other charitable organizations (each 56 percent).
- Although the poor constitute approximately 12 percent of the population, many more people report being touched by poverty. Forty-one percent of the population said they know someone living in poverty. More men than women said they knew someone living in poverty.
- When low-income respondents were asked specifically what it means to be poor in America, their responses were more emotional than were those from the general public. Terms such as "degrading," "hopeless," and "looked down upon" were used frequently.
Results of the Poverty Pulse will be used to promote understanding of poverty in America and a greater awareness of the problem in society. "Some results can be expected through individual efforts, but the most effective approach to reducing poverty is through community-based, self-help organizations," Father Vitillo said. "This pervasive problem in society warrants and deserves a community response."
The complete Poverty Pulse survey results are available on the new website: www.povertyusa.org or from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, 3211 Fourth Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20017-1194. Additional details about combating poverty are also available at the site.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is one of the largest funding sources of self-help programs in the United States. In 2000, CCHD provided grants in excess of $10 million to support community and economic development projects in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Grants are based on need and awarded without regard to race, religious affiliation or ethnic origin. The Campaign is sponsored by the U.S. Catholic bishops and is supported by an annual collection in all Catholic parishes.