The type of family structure also makes a difference: whereas only 8.5% of children living with married parents live in poverty, 43% of those living with only their mother live in poverty. This latter figure is about 32% for Asian children and for non-Latino white children and rises to slightly more than 50% for African American children and Latino children (Moore, Redd, Burkhauser, Mbawa, & Collins, 2009). As these latter numbers indicate, families headed by a single woman are much more likely to be poor. Poverty thus has a female face.
“About 61 percent of the sheltered homeless population were in a minority group, comprised mostly of African-Americans,” HUD officials said. “Minorities, especially African-Americans, were overrepresented in the sheltered homeless population when compared to their share of the total U.S. population.”
Blacks were nearly 40 percent of U.S. homeless in 2012
With this caveat in mind, how many Americans are poor, and who are they? The U.S. Census Bureau gives us some answers. In 2008, 13.2% of the U.S. population, or about 40 million Americans, lived in (official) poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). This percentage represented a decline from the early 1990s but was higher than the rate in the late 1960s (see ). If we were winning the war on poverty in the 1960s, since then poverty has fought us to a standstill.
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Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s homeless population in 2012 were Black, according to a report titled “The 2012 Annual Homeless Report to Congress: Volume II Estimates of Homelessness in the United States.”
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This way of calculating the poverty line has not changed since 1963, even though many other things, such as energy, child care, and health care, now occupy a greater percentage of the typical family’s budget than was true in 1963. As a national measure, the poverty line also fails to take into account regional differences in the cost of living. For all of these reasons, many experts think the official measurement of poverty is highly suspect. As a recent report observed, “Most poverty analysts strongly believe that the official poverty statistics are inadequate to the task of determining who is poor in America” (Mishel et al., 2009, p. 298).
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Who are the poor? Contrary to popular images, the most typical poor person in the United States is : 43% of poor people are white (non-Latino), 27% are Latino, 25% are black, and 4% are Asian (see ). At the same time, race and ethnicity affect the chances of being poor: while only 8.2% of non-Latino whites are poor, 24.5% of African Americans, 10.2% of Asians, and 21.5% of Latinos (who may be of any race) are poor (see ). Thus African Americans and Latinos are more than three times as likely as non-Latino whites to be poor. (Because there are so many non-Latino whites in the United States, the plurality of poor people are non-Latino white, even if the percentage of whites who are poor is relatively low.) further discusses the link between poverty and race and ethnicity.