WASHINGTON (January 12, 2004) -- More than half of all American adults are concerned they will be poor at some point in their life. Despite signs of an economic recovery, 56% of Americans are more concerned about becoming poor someday than they were a year ago, according to the national "Poverty Pulse" survey sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and released January 12 at a press conference in New Orleans.
Compared to last year, the survey results show an increase of five percent among Americans who fear that they will enter the cycle of poverty. The most recent U.S. Census figures, released last fall, show that 34.6 million Americans now live below the poverty line, a figure 1.7 million higher than the 32.9 million reported for the prior year.
The "Poverty Pulse" is commissioned annually by CCHD to determine public views on poverty. A total of 1,008 respondents were surveyed among the general adult population to highlight attitudes and awareness of poverty in the United States. The public opinion poll is conducted as part of Poverty in America Awareness Month, which is observed in January and has been promoted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and other organizations since 2000.
This year's survey revealed that almost all Americans (96%) think that it is important to address poverty in the United States now.
Almost three-quarters (70%) of the population said they believe that there are more people living in poverty today than a year ago. In fact, there are 1.7 million more persons in poverty in the last year. While respondents' estimate of the total number of people living in poverty has increased in the past year, it is still far below reality. Respondents estimated that there are between one and two million poor people in America. The actual number is 34.6 million.
Perceptions with regard to the income level needed to cover basic needs are much higher than poverty thresholds defined by the Federal government and have increased from last year. Americans were asked "How much annual income would you say a family of four living in the United States needs to cover basic needs?" The median income considered necessary for a family of four to meet basic needs was estimated at $40,000. As a point of comparison, Federal government poverty threshold for a family of four is now officially set at $18,400.
Lack of education and employment opportunities are seen as primary causes of poverty in the United States and better education is said to be the single best way to permanently break the cycle of poverty.
When asked "What, if anything, have you done in the past year to help alleviate poverty or to help someone who is poor," 82 percent said they had done something. Most gave money (34%). People who have not been able to help the poor at all said it was because they lacked the money (59%) and not because they didn't care (6%). An increased number of people (13%) reported involvement with community-based organizations as their response to helping the poor; this represented a five percent increase from last year in people reporting such action.
Finally, on an unaided basis, when asked the single biggest problem facing U.S. society today, "Terrorism" is seen as less of a concern than it was a year ago, but issues relating to the government and politics seem to weigh more heavily among people's concerns about the most serious issues facing society in the United States today.
"Poverty exerts a negative impact on people of all ages, but no other group feels the effect more than children," said Father Robert Vitillo, executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. "Poverty in America Awareness Month" continues to serve as a public reminder that 16.7% of all American children live in poverty today. Among people of color, the situation is even more urgent, since 32.3% of all African-American children and 28.6% of all Hispanic children are poor. If we are ever to break the cycle of poverty for good, we must start by helping children from poor and low-income families gain access to a better start in life."
In a separate survey, CCHD polled the low-income population about their concerns and reported the following findings:
- In addition to 97% of the low-income respondents being concerned about poverty, they are also almost equally concerned about access to healthcare, education and exposure to crime.
- Being poor in the U.S. is described by low-income people in terms of not having things (home, job, food, money, health care) but also in emotional terms. They describe being poor as depressing, degrading, being looked down on, ignored, hopeless, lonely, and powerless. For many, being poor has less to do with what they do or have than how they are treated.
- Lack of adequate and appropriate education continues to be identified as
the primary causal factor in sustaining the cycle of poverty.
- Most low-income respondents (66%) cited various problems with the education system as contributing to poverty. Lack of employment opportunities and a living wage were also cited by about half of all respondents.
- Lack of adequate housing is a major issue for many living with low incomes (41%). Among those who feel their housing is inadequate, they cite safety (exposure to crime and violence) as their primary concern.
- More than a third of all respondents (37%) have been homeless at some point in their lives.
- Although the government was seen as having primary responsibility for addressing poverty, the best way to permanently end it was thought to rest with community-based organizations (41%).
- There was a 12% increase in the percent of respondents (47%) who felt that people were less likely to help those living in poverty in the past year.
Established by the Catholic Bishops of the United States, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is one of the largest private funders of self-help programs initiated and led by poor people in the U.S. Committed to the permanent elimination of poverty and injustice in America, CCHD has offered $260 million in support to more than 4,000 programs nationwide that know no racial or religious boundaries – projects that help create jobs, improve neighborhoods and allow people to find a way out of poverty, not just for a day but for a lifetime. For more information about Poverty in America Awareness Month, please visit MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor www.povertyusa.org or call the contacts listed below.