Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Poverty in America

Given the slow and halting pace of recovery from the Great Recession, it is not surprising that the US Census report on poverty in America showed a significant increase in the percent of people living in poverty – 14.3% compared to 13.2% in 2008. What does it mean to be counted as poor? In 2009, a family of two adults and two children would be considered poor if the household income was below $21,756.

The poverty rate has not been higher in the past 15 years, since 1994. Poverty data isn’t available for South Carolina from 2009, but judging from past trends, South Carolina’s rates are likely to be far higher than the national rates of poverty. Regionally, the South (including South Carolina) had 15.7% of people living in poverty in 2009.

As is typically the case, more children suffer from poverty than any other age group – 20.7% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty across the country compared to 12.9% of people between the ages of 18-64. We know that childhood poverty is linked to academic, emotional, social and physical problems (see ChildTrends Poverty and Children 2009) and we know that teen pregnancy is inextricably linked to poverty. Two-thirds of families begun by young unmarried mothers are poor. Teen pregnancy is the leading cause of high school dropout among girls and only 38% of mothers who have children before the age of 18 will earn a high school diploma. Poor education leads to poor employment possibilities and about a quarter of teen moms will receive public assistance within three years of their child being born (see National Campaign Why it Matters for these stats and more information on the connection between teen pregnancy and poverty).

While there are many ways to address poverty in America, from job training and education to restructuring public assistance, we know that teen parenthood tremendously burdens young people. While the poverty news is not good, what is good news is that for the first time, an unprecedented amount of federal funding will be travelling to communities across the country to tackle teen pregnancy. If successful, fewer young people will have to struggle with teen pregnancy, which could greatly improve their chances to avoid poverty.

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Researcha and Evaluation, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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