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Unformatted text preview: CHAPTER 15 Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families One of the primary goals of this Handbook is to describe and understand the diverse range of family experiences and the family members who make up such experiences. The households discussed in these chapters represent a richness of familial vari— ation. Yet there is an experience that can touch virtually all of the families discussed—poverty. Regardless of a family’s race, age, or structure, poverty and economic'hardship can penetrate its boundaries. At the same time, poverty is more likely to be eXperienced by those households falling out— side the often referenced category of white, married couple households. In other words, poverty is an experience that is particularly relevant for many of the families and individuals examined in, this Hand- book. Poverty is also one of the most far-reaching social issues in the United States. Whether the dis— cussion revolves around the use of welfare, racial inequalities, single-parent families, educational inequities, infant mortality, or a host of other topics, poverty underlies each one. Ultimately, it is one of the great challenges that our society (and all soci— eties) must face.E How we confront this challenge depends, to a large extent, upon an accurate assess— ment of its condition and causes. 293 MARK R. RANK Finally, the existence of poverty in an affluent society, such as the United States, is troubling. The fact that a sizable number of American families and individuals are touched by poverty should be dis— quieting to those concerned about the principles of fairness, equity, and justice. For these reasons, I have developed and sustained my interest in poverty. The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of poverty’s terrain as it affects American families. Several questions are examined: (1) How is poverty measured? (2) How has the landscape of poverty changed over time? (3) How long and often are households poor? (4) Who are the poor? (5) How does the United States compare with other countries in regard to poverty? (6) What is the human meaning of poverty? and (7) What impact does poverty have upon family dynamics? To con- clude, I provide a brief conceptual framework in which to place the answers to these questions. HOW IS POVERTY MEASURED? By its very definition, poverty represents a lack or absence of essential resources. Webster (1996) defines poverty in three complementary ways: “1. the state or condition of having little or no money, 294 goods, or means of support; 2. deficiency of neces- sary or desirable ingredients, qualities, etc.; 3. scantiness; insufficiency.” 4 Assuming we could roughly agree on these def— initions, how is such a level determined? Until Pres— ident Lyndon Johnson’s declared War on Poverty in 1964, the United States had no measure of poverty. The task of devising such a standard fell on Molly Orshansky—an economist who was then working for the Social Security Administration—t0 devise the country’s yardstick for measuring poverty (see Fisher, 1992, and Orshansky, 1965, for a descriptive history of her approach; for extended discussions on various, ways of measuring poverty, see Have— man, 1993; Mayer & Jencks, 1989; “Measuring Poverty,” 1995; National Research Council, 1995; Renwick & Bergmann, 1993; Ruggles, 1990, 1992; Sycheva, 1997; Vaughan, 1993; Walker, 1994). The tack- that Orshansky chose was consistent with Webster’s definition. That is, she conceptual— ized poverty as the failure to have the income nec— essary to purchase a basic basket of goods and ser— vices that allows for a minimally decent level of existence. The way that this level of existence was (and still is) calculated is straightforward. One begins by estimating the household costs of obtain- ing a minimally adequate diet during the course of the year. Orshansky considered four food plans developed by the US. Department of Agriculture (in 1961) to calculate what a minimal diet would cost. The most frugal, entitled the Economy Food Plan, was eventually chosen. The cost of this mini— , mal diet is then multiplied by 3. The result is a fig- ure that represents the official poverty line. The rea- son for using 3 as a multiplier is that Orshansky relied on a 1955 US. Department of Agriculture survey showing that families with three or more persons spent approximately one third of their income on food and the remaining-two thirds on other such items as clothing, housing, and heating. To illustrate this procedure, in 1995 a family of four would need to spend $5,190 to purchase an adequately minimal diet. This figure is then multi— plied by three ($5,190 * 3 = $15,569), which con- stitutes the official poverty line for a family of four. The logic in this example is that if $5,190 will pur- chase a subsistence diet for a family of four, then CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES the remaining $10,379 should provide enough income to purchase the other basic necessities needed to maintain a minimal level of existence. The measuring stick to determine whetherindi- viduals fall above or below the poverty threshold is household, not family, income. According to the US. Bureau of the Census (1996c, p. A1), members of a household “consist of all persons who occupy a housing unit,” whereas the term family “refers to a group of two or more persons related by birth, marriage, or adoption Who reside together; all such persons are considered as members of One family.” Throughout this chapter, both definitions are used in discussing the poverty stricken. In many cases they are one and the same—eg, a three—person household consisting of a mother and her two chil— dren. In other cases, they are not. For example, a single man or woman living alone would constitute a household but not a family, according to the Cen- sus Bureau. Several other points regarding the measurement of poverty are important. Each year the poverty lev— els are adjusted to take inflation into account. Obvi— ously, it costs more to purchase a basic basket of goods today than it did 30 years ago. Second, when the measure of poverty was devised in 1964, it was backdated to 1959. Consequently, the official meas— urement of and trends in poverty began in 1959. Third, household income is based on annual income, calculated from pretax dollars, and does not include in—kind program benefits, such as Med- icaid or food stamps. Fourth, the actual estimate of how many Americans fall below the poverty line is derived from the annual Current Population Survey of approximately 60,000 households, conducted by the US. Bureau of the Census. Fifth, the levels of poverty established each year do not differentiate between differences in the cost of living in various parts of the country. Finally, the monetary amount necessary for a small household’s basic needs obvi— ously differs from that required for a larger house- hold; therefore, the poverty levels are adjusted for household size. For example, in 1995 the poverty level for a household of one was $7,763, while that of a househdld of nine or more was $31,280. There is considerable debate as to'whether these levels are set too low, too high, or just right. Those Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families who argue that they are set too high point to the fail— ure of the official measure to take into account ben— efits accrued from in—kind programs (such as food stamps and Medicaid). Those who contend that the poverty levels are set too low note that certain costs, such as housing or child care, have escalated dra— matically since the poverty lines were established. However, to illustrate what these numbers mean in a day—to—day Sense, consider the 1995 poverty level for a family of four—$15,569. Using the. one third/two thirds split, a hypothetical family would have $5,190 available for food during the year, or $99.81 a week, $14.22 a day, or $3.56 a day for each family member. Assuming that family members eat three meals per day, this amount works out to $1.19 per person, per meal, per day. Similarly, the remain- ing two thirds of the poverty line’s threshold— $10,379—provides _a family with $199.60 per week for all other expenses, including housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, child care, med— ical expenses, and the various additional expendi- tures that a family of four may have. Bringing the poverty line down to this level allows for a more ‘ meaningful sense of what these numbers represent in terms of people’s lives. As I explain in a later sec- tion, to live below the poverty line embodies physi- cal hardship. Indeed, the Gallup poll has asked the following question over the past 50 years, “What is the small- est amount of money a family of four (husband, wife, and two children) needs each week to get along in this community?” The average amounts given by the respondents have been substantially higher than What the weekly poverty level for a family of four would be. Furthermore, in 1989 the Gallup Organization asked respondents in four monthly samples the following question, “People who have income below a certain level can be con- sidered poor. That level is called the ‘poverty line.’ What amount of weekly income would you use as a poverty line for a family of four (husband, wife and two children) in this community?” Individuals set the poverty line, on average, 23 percent higher than the official poverty line for a family of four (see O’Hare, Mann, Porter, & Greenstein, 1990, and ' Vaughn, 1993, for an extensive discussion of this issue). The bottom line is that Americans’ subjec— 295 tive opinions of what constitutes poverty are signif- icantly more generous than the official measure- ment of poverty. > In addition, it is important to keep in mind that this example captures poverty at its most opulent level. Yet families fall to varying degrees below the poverty line. In 1995, 38.1% of all poor persons were living in households with incomes below half their respective poverty threshold (US. Bureau of the Census, 1996c). Taking 50% of the poverty threshold for a family of four works out to $49.91 per week for food and $99.80 per week for all other expenses. - Yet another way of translating the meaning of poverty into one’s life can be seen in the following > statistic. In 1995, the median income for a family of four in the United States was $59,738 (US. Bureau of the Census, 1996b). In the same year, the median income of a family of four below the poverty line was $8,953. The average income of such a family was therefore 15% of the average income for a fam- ily of four in the United States. Some Who are reading this chapter may be near the average in terms of household income. A num— ber of you (as I do) may occasionally find it difficult to keep up with various household expenses and needs. Now imagine that instead of the income cur— rently coming in for this month, next month you will be receiving just 15% of your income. The other 85% is suddenly gone. That 85%is the dis— tance between the average standard of living and the standard of living of those below the poverty line. In essence, to survive on 15% of the average family income is roughly what it means to live in poverty. Finally, in an important respect, today’s poverty is harsher than it was 40 years ago. In 1947 the poverty threshold for a family of four would have stood at 69% of the median four—person family income (Fisher, 1992). When the United States began counting the number of poor Americans in 1959, it had dropped to just below 50% of the median. By 1995, the poverty threshold had fallen to 31% (US. Bureau of the Census, 1996c). During the 1950s and 1960s, increases in income were well above the overall rates of inflation, whereas the poverty thresholds simply kept up with the levels of 296 inflation. Thus, the gap between the two got Wider during these periods of the growth in real wages. Being categorized today as' poor has conse— quently meant living further afield from the eco— nomic midpoint than in the past. Hence, if one were to apply in 1995 the economic, distance of families in poverty from the median that was found in 1959, the poverty threshold for a family of four would rise from its Current $15,569 to $24,347. In this sense, poverty has become harsher today than it was 40 years-ago. v ' HOW HAS THE FACE OF POVERTY CHANGED OVER TIME? Over the past four decades, two major changes have significantly altered the face of poverty: (1) the shifting risk of poverty across age groups and (2) the changing composition of poor families. Al- though other shifts have occurred as well, these two changes capture much of the historical dynamic in American poverty. Trends'in the Risk of Poverty Figure 15.1 illustrates the changes in the risks of poverty during the past 40 years. It graphs both the key American success (the elderly) and failure (children) with respect to averting poverty over time and compares them to the country’s overall rate of poverty. In 1959, the total poverty rate stood at 22.4%. The rate for children (under age 18) was 27.3%, and that for the elderly (aged 65 and over) was 35.2%. Children’s poverty rate was 22% above the overall rate, while the elderly’s poverty rate was 57% above the overall rate. 5 From 1959-to 1969, all three groups (but partic— ularly children and the general pepulation) dis- played a dramatic reduction in poverty. The rates of poverty for children and the overall population were cut approximately in half during that time. As a result, by 1969 the poverty rate was 12.1% for the general population, 14.0% for children, and 25.3% for the elderly. The child poverty rate was only 16% higher than the general rate, whereas the elderly’s poverty rate was 108% higher. What occurred after 1969 was a dramatic shift in the relative positions of these three groups. From CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMlLIES 1969 to 1974, the overall rate of poverty decreased slightly to 11%, while the rate for children began to rise. At the same time, the poverty rate for the eld— erly dropped dramatically. Consequently, by 1974 the poverty rate for the elderly. was, for the first time, below the rate for children. From 1974 to 1979, the relative positions of these three groups and their distance from one another held steady, but from 1979 to 1984 chil— dren’s poverty rates rose sharply, the elderly’s poverty rates declined even further, and the overall rate of poverty increased moderately. As a result, from 1982 onward, the elderly’s poverty rate fell below that of the general population and well below that of children. The relative positions of these groups thus dra— matically reversed over the course of four decades. In 1959, the elderly had some of the highest rates of poverty of any group. Today, they have some of the lowest. In 1969, the poverty rate for children was fairly close to the overall average. Today, children (particularly young children) are the age group most likely to be poor in America. As I mentioned earlier, these changes represent America’s greatest success and failure in averting poverty. ‘ " There are several reasons why such changes have occurred. In the case of the elderly, the sub— stantial reduction in the risk of poverty is directly attributed to the increasing generosity of the Social Security program, as well as the introduction of Medicare in 1965 and the Supplemental Security Income program in 1971. During the 1960s and 19703, social security benefits were substantially increased, which helped many of the elderly get above the poverty line. It is estimated that today, without the Social Security program, the poverty rate for the elderly would be close to 50% (Danziger & Weinberg, 1994). Put another Way, social security is responsible for getting 75% of the elderly above the poverty line who would be poor in its absence. One reason for this success is that the amount that individuals have been getting back from social security has been well above what they and their employers contributed. For example, the average person who retired in 1980 recouped within four years of retirement what he or she and the employers had paid into social security (Kollman, 1995). Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families FIGURE 15.1 297 Poverty Rates for the Overall Population, Children, and the Elderly, 1959—95 W 05 I— m to l\ 01 \— m In l\ 03 L0 \D \D \0 \D \D I\ l\ l\ I\ I\ 0‘ Oi OX 01 61 0‘» 03 0‘ 03 OX 01 ,— .— .— .— .— .— .— .— .— .— .— Year In the case of children, three reasons stand out as to why their risk of poverty has increased from 1969 onward. First, at the same time that the social safety net for the elderly was becoming stronger, that for the nation’s children was beginning to unravel (Preston, 1984). From the early 19703 onward, social welfare programs to assist low— income children have lost ground to inflation, resulting in more children falling below the poverty line (US. House of Representatives, 1994). Second, the median annual earnings of young (under age 30) heads of households with children have dropped significantly over the past two decades. They fell an average of 44% from 1973 to 1990, regardless of differences in family structure, +Overall Poverty Rate +Children's Poverty Rate -A—Elder|y Poverty Rate 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 race, and levels of education (Edelman, 1992). As a result, young children have faced an increasing risk of poverty. Third, there have been dramatic changes in fam— ily structure from the mid-1960s onward. As a result of the increasing rates of divorce and out-of— wedlock childbearing, more youngsters have been spending periods of their childhood in female- headed families. In 1959, 9.4% of all families with children under age 18 were headed by women. By 1969, the percentage had grown slightly to 11.3%. However, by 1979 the percentage had jumped to 18.6% and stood at 23.8% in 1995 (US. Bureau of the Census, 1996a). That the risk of poverty in female—headed families is substantially greater than 298 that in married-couple families has put children in a more precarious position Vis—a—vis poverty and is reflected in the changes in the overall rates of child poverty shown in Figure 15.1. ' Family Structural Changes This family structural change has led to the second important shift in the face of poverty—the living arrangements of poor children have changed signif- icantly. Figure 15.2 plots the percentage of poor FIGURE 15.2 CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES families (with children under age 18) that were headed by mothers from 1959 to 1995. What is readily apparent is the dramatic shift in the house hold living arrangements of children in poverty. In 1959, 1 out of 4 white families and 1 out of 3 black families with incomes below the poverty line were female headed. From 1964 to 1978, the percentage of poor families that were female headed increased rapidly, so that by 1978, 1 out of 2 white families, 4 out of 5 black families, and 3 out of 5 overall fami- lies with poor children were headed by women. Percentage of Poor Families (with Children under Age 1 8) Headed by a Mother only 1959—95 Percent 0‘ v‘ 1”) Ln I\ 0‘ \— M In |\ O} I— lh \D \D \D \D \O l\ i\ I\ l\ I\ w 01 0'1 m 0 Ch 0‘ 0‘ 0‘ m 0‘ m m u— v— r- \— u— r— r- ‘— u— r- v- :— 1983 +Overall Female Headed Families +White Female Headed Families +Black Female Headed Families 1985 1987 1989 1993 1995 Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families These percentages dipped somewhat during the early 1980s, but have since returned to their previ— ous high levels, , This then constitutes the second major change in the face of poverty that has occurred Over the past four decades. Poor children are now'more likely to be living in female—headed families than in married- couple families, and black children are substan- tially more likely to do so. Although this change has occurred in the United States across all income cat— egories, it has been particularly dramatic for fami— lies with income-below the poverty line. The poor of today are therefore more likely to be children, particularly children in female—headed families, than the poor of yesteryear. The face of poverty has become younger and more closely associated with one—parent families than it was in the past. ' WHAT is THE DYNAMIC OF POVERTYSPELLS? Overall Patterns Until recently, policy makers who saw the type of cross-sectional data plotted in Figure 15.1 often assumed that the same families were poor year in and year out. With the advent of several national panel studies (e.g., the Panel Study- of Income Dynamics, National Survey of Youth, Survey of Income and Program Participation), considerable light has been shed on this subject. By following the same households over time, one can observe and track what the dynamics of poverty spells and income mobility actually are (poverty spells refer to the length of time that individuals consecutively fall below the poverty line, often measured in years, whereas poverty dynamics refer to the overall pat— tern of poverty spells). Several broad conclusions can be drawn from these data. First, most spells of poverty are of fairly modest length. Households typically are impoverished for several years and then manage to rise above the poverty line (Bane & Ellwood, 1986; Blank, 1997; Duncan, 1984; Stevens, 1994). They may stay there for a period, only to experience an additional fall into poverty at some later point. Because their eco- 299 nomic distance above the poverty threshold is often narrow, when a detrimental economic event, such as the loss of a jOb or the breakup of a family occurs, it can easily throw a family back below the poverty line. In contrast, a much smaller number of house? holds experience chronic poverty for years at a time. These are the cases that one generally thinks of when the term underclass is used. Generally, they have characteristics that put them at a severe disadvantage vis~a—vis the labor market (e. g., indi- viduals with serious work disabilities, female- headed families with large numbers of children, racial minorities living in inner-city areas). Their prospects for getting out of poverty for any signifi— cant period are severely diminished. Blank (1997) relied on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to calculate the occurrence 'of poverty over a l3~year period. The PSID has followed a nationally representative sam~ ple of approximately 5,000 households each year from 1968 to the present. She found that from 1979 to 1991, one third of Americans experienced a spell of poverty. However, of those who fell below the poverty line, half were poor for three years or less, one third were in poverty between 4 and 9 years, 14.6% fell below the poverty line for 10 of the 13 years, and 4.5% fell below the poverty line for each of the 13 years. Blank (1997) also found that the likelihood and duration of poverty varied sharply by race. One quarter of white Americans, versus two thirds of black Americans experienced poverty at some point during the 13—year period. Furthermore, 67% of whites who experienced poverty were poor . for three years or less, whereas the figure for blacks was only 30%. Consequently, black Americans were more likely to be touched by poverty and more likely to be exposed to poverty for substantially longer periods. - In a similar analysis, Devine and Wright (1993) used the PSID data to examine the dynamics of poverty from 1969 to 1987. They found that 38.1% of the total population experienced a spell of poverty during that period,'but that only 1.1% of the sample were poor during all 19 years. However, Devine and Wright also observed that the number 300 of individuals who experienced spells of persistent poverty (measured in various ways) was on the rise during those two decades. Finally, they found that being black and/or female strongly increased the probability of experiencing poverty, particularly long-term poverty. ' Research 'on the dynamics of poverty has also shown that many households will reexperience poverty in the future. Using annual estimates of poverty from the PSID data, Stevens (1994) calcu- lated that of all persons who had managed to get themselves above the poverty line, over half returned to poverty within five years. A slightly different way of illustrating these pat- terns is to focus on monthly, rather than annual, rates of poverty. The Survey of Income and Pro- gram Participation (SIPP) data Set allows for such a focus. The SIPP has been administered by the US. Bureau of the Census monthly from 1983 onward, with individuals from approximately 20,000 house— holds interviewed at four—month intervals. The SIPP’s monthly measurement of poverty between 1992 and 1993 revealed that the duration of impoverishment for most households is short (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996d). After 4 months, close to half of all poor persons had risen above the poverty line; after 8 months, two thirds; and after one year, three quarters. Only 13.5% of persons fell below the poverty line continuously for each of the 24 months. The median length of time below the poverty threshold was 4.9 months. As with the annual rates, the duration of poverty varies by particular demographic characteristics. Blacks and Hispanics, children and the elderly, female— headed families, inner—city and nonmetropolitan residents, and individuals with less education were all more likely to experience longer spells of poverty. However, even for these households, poverty measured monthly was of short duration. Finally, many of those who work their way above the monthly poverty line will find themselves below that line in the future. The recidivism rates become considerably higher when'one deals with monthly, rather than annual, measures of poverty. Thus, although the typical spell of poverty may not last long, poverty can touch a fairly large per— CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES centage of the overall population, Devine and Wright (1993, p. 105) indicated: While the proportion Of families officially designated as poor in any given year is somewhere between 11% and 15% (for the years in question), the proportion who experience at least one year of poverty over a two—decade span is nearly 40 percent—two or three times the annual poverty rate. If one could extend this analysis over the average lifetime of a family, the pro— portion experiencing at least a year of poverty would have to increase and might easily reach or exceed half. Is it truly possible that half the households in this affluent, postindustrial society are destined to spend at least one of their years beneath the poverty line? Remarkably, the answer appears to be yes. The picture of poverty that is drawn from both the annual and monthly analyses is thus a more fluid one than what had traditionally been depicted. Individuals tend to weave their way in and out of poverty, depending upon the occurrence or nonoc- currence of particular events. This tendency then leads to the second major conclusion derived from the research on poverty dynamics. Events Triggering Poverty Spells Spells of poverty are generally triggered by unfa— vorable events that occur to households, the loss of employment and earnings being the most impor— tant. Using the PSID data, Duncan et a1. (1995) found that two thirds of all entries into poverty were associated with either/a reduction in work (48%) or the loss of work (18%). In addition, divorce and separation were associated with approximately 10% of all spells of poverty. Employment~re1ated factors were much more likely to trigger spells of poverty in the United States than they were in coun— tries such as France, Germany, or the Netherlands because of the higher wages paid'in such countries and their more generous unemployment policies. Blank (1997) also found that employment and earnings were highly influential in getting people out of poverty. Two thirds of those below the poverty line escaped impoverishment as a result of increases in the individual earnings of family mem— bers or increases from other sources of income. The Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families remaining third had their spells of poverty end as a result of changes in family structure (such as mar- riage or a child leaving the household). In summa— rizing her findings on poverty dynamics, Blank stated, ‘ " Changes in earnings and work opportunities are very important in many families, driving them into poverty or helping them to escape. To a lesser extent, changes in family composition are also important in “creating” and “dissolving” poor families. But . . . for some sub— stantial minority among the poor—particularly the black poor—poverty is long—term and escape is infre- quent. (p. 27) WHO ARE THE POOR? Who encounters a spell of poverty? This question can be examined in one of two ways—what charac— teristics place an individual and his or her family at a greater-risk-of experiencing poverty, and what are the compositional characteristics of the poor popu- lation? These questions lead to slightly different pictures of who the poor are. Demographic Differences in Poverty Rates Using data from the US. Bureau of the Census (19960), Table 15.1 focuses on a small number of demographic characteristics. The overall US. rate of poverty for 1995 was 13.8%, representing 364 million Americans. Multiplying the poverty level by 1.25 (in other words, increasing the poverty level by 25%) results in a rate of 18.5%, or 48.8 million Americans (not shown in Table 15.1). Conse- quently, 12.4 million Americans were living precar— iously close to the poverty line. _ ' The official rate of 13.8% in 1995 provides a benchmark to gauge. if certain attributes result in higher or lower probabilities of poverty. With regard to race, the poverty rate for whites stood at 11.2%, or 8.5% when those who identified them— selves as Hispanic were not included. It should be noted that Hispanic is a category of ethnicity, rather than race. Consequently, Hispanics can be either white or black, although the vast majority classify themselves as white. 301 In contrast, the rates of poverty for blacks (29.3%) and Hispanics. (30.3%) were well over three times that of whites in 1995, and the rate for Asian and Pacific Islanders (14.6%) was slightly above the average. However, the racial group with the highest levels of poverty is Native Americans living on reservations. It is estimated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that at least half the 1.3 million American Indians who live on reservations are poor, with unemployment rates running at approxi— mately 50 percent. , As Table 15.1 shows, Children are the age group most likely to be poor, with 1 out of 5 children falling below the poverty line in 1995. Furthermore, nearly 1 out of 4 children under age 6 (23.7%) were impoverished in that year (not shown). Young adults in their 205 also had a relatively high level of poverty. The level of poverty dropped substantially for individuals in their prime income~earning years: 35—54. Finally, there was a slight increase in the level of poverty for older Americans, particularly those over age 75 (13.0%, not shown). For individuals aged 18 and over, women expe— rience poverty at a rate that is 50% higher than that for men (13.4% versus 9% in 1995). One reason for this discrepancy lies in the next category—house— hold status—in which the risk of poverty varies dra— matically. In 1995 , the poverty rate for family mem— bers in married—couple households was 6.8%, whereas the rate for female—headed households was 36.5%. As Figure 15.2 indicated, the percentage of female—headed families below the poverty line increased substantially from 1959 to 1995,,endan- gering a greater number of women and their chil- dren to economic destitution. The poverty rate for persons living without relatives was 20.9% in 1995. Poverty also varies in terms of where people live. In 1995, central-city areas were marked by poverty rates of 20.6%; followed by rural areas, 15.6%; and metropolitan areas outside central cities,.9.l%. The last two characteristics in Table 15.1, educa— tion and work disability, are strongly associated with the risk of poverty. In 1995, the poverty rate for those with less than a high school education was 25.6%, compared to 10.4% for those with high school diplo- 302 TABLE 15.1 CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES Poverty Rates and Demographic Composition of the Poor and Overall Populations, 1995 Household Characteristics Poverty Rate Total 13.8 Race , White 1 1 .2 Not of Hispanic origin 8.5 Black 29.3 Hispanic v 30.3 Asian and Pacific Islander 14.6 Age Under 18 20.8 18 to 24 18. 3 25 to .34 12.7 35 to 44 ‘ 9.4 45 to 54 7.8 55 to 64 10.2 65 and over 10.5 Gender (18 and over) Women 13.4 Men . '. 9.0 Household Status . Married Couple* 6.8 Female—headed household* 36.5 Unrelated individual 20.9 Other — Residence In metropolitan areas 13.4 In central cities 20.6 Outside central cities 9.1 Outside metropolitan areas 15.6 Education (25 and over ** Less than 12 25.6 12 10.4 13 to 15 7.0 16 or more 3.0 Work Disability (16 to 64)** V N 0 Work Disability 10.1 Work Disability . 28.9 Severe Work Disability 35 .8 Percentage of the Poor Population Percentage of the Overall Population 100.0 100.0 67.1 82.7 44.7 74.0 27.1 12.8 23.5 , > , 10.7 3.9 3.2 40.3 26.8 12.5 9.4 14.3 15.5 11.2 16.3 6.8 12.0 5.9 8.0 9.1 12.0 61.7 52.0 38.3 48.0 32.4 66.0 39.0 14.8 22.6 15.0 6.0 4.2 . 77.8 80.4 44.7 30.0 33.1 50.4 22.2 19.6 46.0 19.8 33.5 35.4 14.6 23.0 5.9 21.9 76.8 90.4 23.2 9.6 16.8 5.6 *Includes all married couple and female-headed families with and without children under age 18 in the household. **Data are for 1992. Sources: US. Bureau of the Census. (1993). Current Population Reports (Series P-60, No. 185). Washington, DC: US. Government Printing Office; and US. Bureau of the Census. (1996). Current Population Reports (Series P—60, No. 194). Washington, DC: U.S. Gov— ernment Printing Office. mas, 7% for those with some college education, and only 3% for those with college degrees. Likewise, individuals with a work disability (28.9%), particu— larly one that was severe (35.8%), were much more likely to experience poverty than their counterparts without a work disability (10.1%). Each of the characteristics in Table 15.1 is strongly associated with the risk of poverty. Rather than being randomly distributed, poverty varies in a systematic way across the demographic character- isticsfound in the table. Furthermore, as these char- acteristics overlap with one another, the risk of poverty increases or decreases substantially. For example, the poverty rate for children under age 6, who are black and were living in female—headed families was a stunning 70.6% in 1995 (US. Bureau of the Census, 19960). What all these characteristics have in common is Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families that they increase or decrease the vulnerability of individuals vis-a-vis the labor market. As is dis- cussed in the concluding section, the risk of poverty for specific households can be largely understood in terms of the households’ economic vulnerability. Households move into poverty largely;.because of detrimental events, such as the loss of work, a reduction in earnings, or the dissolution of a mar— riage. Individuals with less advantageous character— istics (for example, a low level of education) are more likely to experience such events and ,to be more fully exposed to the negative brunt of such events when they occur. Consequently, minorities, children and young adults, women, female heads of household, residents of central cities, and individu- als with less education or work disabilities all face greater risks of poverty. Demographic Composition of the Poverty Population A slightly different picture emerges if one looks at the overall demo graphic composition of the poverty population (found in the second column of Table 15.1). While some groups exhibit a low rate of poverty, they may constitute a majority of the poor if their overall proportion within the general popu— lation is large. Race is an illustration of this fact. The poverty rate for whites (not of Hispanic origin) is 8.5%, but whites make up 44.7% of the total poor population because their overall percentage of the general population is 74%. Conversely, although the poverty rate for blacks is 31/2 times higher than that of whites (29.3%), blacks make up a much lower proportion of the overall poor population (27.1%) than do whites because their overall per— centage of the general population is only 12.8%. What characterizes the demographic composi- tion of the poor as found in Table 15.1? - Two thirds of the poor are white, or 44.7% if Hispanics are counted separately. - Blacks make up slightly over one quarter of the poor population, with Hispanics making up an additional quarter. ‘ Forty percent of the poor are children, and two thirds of the poor are below age 35. 303' - Women make up three fifths of the poverty pop— ulation over age 18. 0 Just under 40% of those below the poverty line live in female—headed families, one third in married-couple families, and 22.6% on their own without relatives. ° Three quarters of the poor reside in metropoli— tan areas, With 44.7% living in central cities, 33.1% in other metropolitan areas, and 22.2% in rural areas. ‘ Close to half the poor (aged 25 and over) do not have high school diplomas. ' One quarter of the poor (aged 16 to 64) are plagued with work disabilities. Several additional points can be made regarding the demographic compositionof the poor. First, as in my study of welfare recipients (Rank, 1994), it is helpful to conceptualize the poor as falling into one of four household—age categories. These mutually exclusive categories constitute 92.4% of the poor. The first three consist of those below age 65: (1) female—headed families with children (36.9% of the poor), (2) married couples with or without children (30.0% of the poor), (3) men or women living with- out relatives (16.4% of the poor), and (4) the elderly (9.1% of the poor). The remaining 7.6% of the poor fall into various other categories. Individuals in each of these household types have their own unique circumstances associated with why they are below the poverty line, as well as their .own unique sets of problems and strengths (Rank, 1994). Second, althOugh three quarters of the poor reside in metropolitan areas, refining this a bit fur— ther gives one a somewhat different image. Through the use of census-tract information from the 1990 census, Jargowsky (1997) found that only 11.8% of the total U.S. poverty population lived in highly impoverished urban ghetto neighborhoods (those with poverty rates in excess of 40%). Even among the black poor, only 25% lived in such neighbor- hoods. Consequently, most of the poor do not reside in the often-portrayed residential image of urban ghettos. However, Jargowsky also found that the percentage of the poor living in high poverty neigh- borhoods had been increasing over time. In 1970 304' the figure was 7.0%; in 1980; 8.7%; and by 1990, 1 1.8%. Finally, the picture that emerges from focusing on the demographics of the poverty population is a slightly different one when compared to the rates of poverty. Nevertheless, what is noticeably apparent in either case is that the poor are characterized by less advantageous labor market attributes. HOW DOES THE UNITED STATES COMPARE WITH OTHER COUNTRIES? The next question posed in this chapter is how the rates of poverty in the United States compare with those of other countries. Specifically, in what ways is the United States similar or dissimilar to other industrialized nations? This question allows me to place the prevalence of US. poverty within a more global context. TABLE 15.2 CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES Several problems have made such comparisons difficult. First has been the lack of comparable data sets that are large enough to allow for such an analysis. Fortunately, this obstacle has been par— tially overcome with the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). Begun in the 19803, it contains income and demographic information on households in 25 different nations from 1967 to the present. By stan- dardizing variables across 70 data sets, it allows one to conduct cross-national analyses of poverty and income inequality. Table 15.2 draws on an analysis by Smeeding (1997b) that used the LIS to compare the rates of poverty in 17 developed nations. A relative measure of poverty is used in the first four columns—the percentage of persons living with incomes below half the median income. In the case of the United States, this works out to approximately 125% of the current poverty thresholds discussed earlier. Extent of Poverty in 1 7 Developed Countries (various years) * —-——————_____._____.___________________ Percentage of the Population Below 50% of the Median Income Percentage of the Population with Incomes Below $14.40 per Day Country Overall Children Adults Elderly Overall United States (1994) 19.1 ' 24.9 16.4 V 19.6 14.1 United Kingdom (1991) 14.6 18.5 10.7 23.9 13.1 Australia (1989) 12.9 15.4 10.3 21.6 7.8 Japan (1992) 11.8 12.2 10.2 18.4 3.7 Canada (1991) 11.7 15.3 11.2 5.7 5.9 Ireland (1987) 11.1 13.8 9.6 7.6 36.5 Spain (1990) 10.4 12.8 9.2 11.4 21.1 Germany (1989) 7.6 8.6 7.3 7.5 11.5 Denmark (1992) 7.5 5.1 7.3 11.3 7.6 France (1984) 7.5 7.4 8.1 4.8 12.0 Netherlands (1991) 6.7 8.3 6.6 4.1 14.4 Sweden (1992) . 6.7 3.0 8.1 6.4 4.6 Norway (1991) 6.6 4.9 5.4 13.5 2.6 Italy (1991) 6.5 10.5 6.1 4.4 —- Finland (1991) 6.2 2.7 5.8 14.4 3.8 Belgium (1992) 5.5 4.4 4.6 11.9 12.0 - Luxembourg (1985) 5.4 5.2 4.1 12.9 4.3 Overall average 9.3 10.2 8.3 11.7 10.9 ———-—-——-———-———-—______._________—________ Source: Smeeding, T. M. (1997). America’s income inequality in a cross-national perspective: Why are we so different? Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper Series (No. 157). Differdange, Luxembourg: CEPS/INSTEAD. Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families The US. rates of poverty are substantially higher than those in any of the other 16 nations. The overall US. rate using this measure stands at 19.1%. The next closest country to the United States is the United Kingdom at 14.6%Igfifollowed by Australia, Japan, and Canada; with the Scandina— vian and Benelux countries falling near the bottom. The average for all 17 nations is 9.3%. The same patterns are evident in the rates for children and adults. The United States leads all nations in havingthe highest rates of child poverty at 24.9%, with the nearest countries (again the United Kingdom and Australia) being 6 and 9_ per- centage points lower, and the overall average stand— ing at 10.2%. Furthermore, the United States remains near the top when this rate is broken down by poverty in one— and two—parent households. The same pattern can be found among adults. Only in the case of the elderly does the United States not" lead the developed world. Here, U.S. poverty rates are third from the top, falling only behind the United Kingdom and Australia. Addi- - tional analyses using the LIS looked at the trends in poverty over time, finding that it has increased most rapidly in the United Kingdom and the United States (Smeeding, 1997b). The final column in Table 15.2 presents a recal— culation of the overall poverty rates using an absolute measure. A critique of the rates in columns 1 to 4 is that, although the United States has a high rate of relative poverty, the standard of living that poor Americans experience is potentially greater than the poor or near-poor in many of the compari— son countries because the overall levels of income and standards of living are higher. Consequently, column 5 shows the recalculation of the poverty rates as persons who fall below the equivalent of 14.40 US. dollars per day (which was the 1985 poverty line for a single person in the United States). Predictably, the lowest per capita income coun— tries in this sample, Ireland and Spain, also have the highest rates of poverty using this measure (36.5% and 21.1%). Next are the Netherlands and the United States, at 14.4% and 14.1%, followed by the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Germany. 305 Finally, the Scandinavian countries, along with Canada, Luxembourg, and Japan, have the lowest rates. Consequently, even when differences in the standard of living are taken into account, the United States’ level of absolute poverty remains among the highest in the industrialized world (for a somewhat different analysis and conclusion, see Mayer, 1995). To summarize, when poverty is analyzed as the number of persons who fall below 50% of a coun- try’s median income, the United States has far and away the highest overall poverty rate in this group of 17 developed nations. It is also near the top in terms of an absolute measure of poverty. Further— more, as one adopts more stringent measures of rel- ative poverty (33% of the median income) or absolute poverty ($7.20 a day), the United States performs progressively worse vis—a-vis other coun- tries. What is surprising about these findings is that the United States is arguably the wealthiest nation in the world. This paradox is revealed in additional LIS analy— ses that have examined how well children and adults from the middle and upper ends of the income scale do. It is not surprising that the United States has the highest standard of living at these points in the income distribution scale. The conclu— sion to be drawn from these divergent patterns regarding American children was stated succinctly by Rainwater and Smeeding (1995, p. 9). In other words, while the United States has a higher real level of income than most of our comparison countries it is the high and middle income children who reap the benefits (and much more the former than the latter). Low income American children suffer in both absolute and relative terms. The average low income child in the other 17 countries is at least one— third better off than is the average low—income Amer— ' ican child. The reasons for such a discrepancy are twofold. First, the social safety net in the United States is much weaker than in virtually every other country in Table 15.2. Second, the United States is plagued by relatively low wages at the bottom of the income distribution scale when compared to other devel— 306 oped countries (Smeeding, 1997a). These factors significantly contribute to both the relative and absolute depths of US. poverty in comparison to other industrialized nations. WHAT IS THE HUMAN MEANING OF POVERTY? Although many experiences are associated With poverty, there are three that I believe capture the essence of the American experience of poverty in individuals’ and families’ 1ives—-having to make significant compromises regarding the daily neces- sities that those not in poverty take for granted, enduring sizeable levels of stress as a result of such insufficiencies, and experiencing one’s own and children’s development stunted as a result of impoverishment. These are the painful and alljto- human dimensions of What it means to be poor in an American context of plenty. EaCh is explored in the following sections. Doing Without The experience of poverty is epitomized by having to do without. It entails insufficiencies and compro- mises involving basic resources, such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, and transportation. It also entails not having additional items and services that many of us take for granted. In short, quoting from the earlier Webster definition, poverty embod— ies a “deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredi— ents” that most Americans have. Several of these deficiencies are discussed next. Living in poverty often means having to do With- out a sufficiently balanced diet and adequate intake of calories (Clancy & Bowering, 1992; Poppen— dieck, 1997; Uvin, 1994). Several large-scale stud- ies have indicated that those in poverty routinely have bouts of hunger, undernutrition, and/or a detri— mental altering of the diet at some point during a month (Breglio, 1992; Cook & Brown, 1992; Physician Task Force on Hunger in America, 1985; US. Conference of Mayors, 1994; VanAmburg Group, 1994). This risk affects children, working- age adults, and the elderly (Cohen, Burt, & Schulte, 1993; Food Research and Action Center, 1991). CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES Having enough food on the table is thus a con- stant battle for families in poverty. As Glickman (1997), the Secretary of Agriculture aptly noted: One in three of our kids live in families that do con- stant battle with hunger—whether it’s missed meals the last few days before a paycheck, or skipped med- ical appointments in favor of putting food on the table. These kids are at [a] constant risk of malnutrition and the lifetime of chronic illness that can accompany it. Good health is a second area that families in poverty often have to do without. One of the most consistent findings in epidemiology is that the qual- ity of an individual’s health is negatively affected by lower socioeconomic status, particularly impover— ishment. Poverty is associated with a host of health risks, including elevated rates of heart disease, dia— betes, hypertension, cancer, infant mortality, mental illness, undernutrition, lead poisoning, asthma, den— tal problems, and a variety of other ailments and dis— eases (Klerrnan & Parker, 1991; Leidenfrost, 1993; Sherman, 1994; Williams & Collins, 1995). The result is a death rate for the poverty stricken that is approximately three times higher than that for the affluent (Pappas, Queen, Hadden, & Fisher, 1993). - As Leidenfrost (1993, p. 1) nOted in her review of the literature, “Health disparities between the poor and those with higher incomes are ahnost universal for all dimensions of healt .” Furthermore, poverty often has a negative effect on children’s health status, which, in turn, has an impact on their well-being as adults (Korenman & Miller, 1997). According to Schiller (1998, p. 97), A child born to a poverty-stricken mother is likely to be undernourished both before and after birth. Fur~ thermore, the child is less likely to receive proper postnatal care, to be immunized against disease, or even to have his or her eyes and teeth examined. As a result, the child is likely to grow up prone to illness and poverty, and in the most insidious of cases, be impaired by organic brain damage. The connection between poverty and ill health exists for several reasons,- including the lack of an adequate diet, less access to medical care, residing in unhealthy and stressful physical and mental envi— ronments, and less educational awareness regarding Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families health issues. The result is an increase in pain and suffering by the poor. Although Medicaid and Medicare have helped to increase-the poor’s access to health care, when the use of health services is compared to the need for services, low-income households still have the low— est rate (Wolfe, 1994). Furthermore, approximately 40% of the poor and near—poor have no health insur- ance, and when they do have insurance, it is often restrictive in terms of what is covered. Just as good health is often compromised as a result of poverty,- so is living in a safe and decent neighborhood..-Although it is true that most of the poor do not live in neighborhoods that are charac- terized as impoverished inner-city areas (as was discussed earlier), nevertheless poverty signifi— cantly limits the overall quality of life in. a neigh— borhood. In addition, racial discrimination in the housing market further restricts the options avail- able to minorities, particularly blacks (Jargowsky, 1997; Massey & Denton, 1993; Yinger, 1995). Being confined to a low—income neighborhood, coupled with transportation problems, often results in the poor paying more and spending more time acquiring basic necessities (Caplovitz, 1963; Dun— bar, 1988; Edin & Lein, 1997). Doing without ade— quate transportation also affects the ability to com- pete for and hold a job (Gureron & Pauly, 1991). What is perhaps most bitter regarding all these hardships is that they take place within a context of abundance. In other words, most US. citizens have plenty to eat and decent Clothes to wear, experience good health and safe neighborhoods, and so on. This message of abundance can be seen daily from shopping malls to television programs. The result is that poverty in the United States has an especially bitter taste. It imprints upon the poor a strong sense of relative deprivation and failure (see Tyler, Boeckmann, Smith, & Huo, 1997, for an extended discussion of the literature on relative'deprivation). In short, living in poverty is epitomized by the struggle to acquire and, at times, forgoing the daily necessities and resources that most people in the United States take for granted. It is the paradox and humiliation of having to do without in a land of plenty. It is the bitter taste of being left out of many of the simple pleasures of life. 307 The Stressful Weight of Poverty A consequence of the struggles noted earlier is that impoverishment exerts a heavy weight upon the shoulders of most who walk in its ranks. In essence, poverty acts to amplify the daily stress found in everyday life and its relationships. Consider the situation that female-headed fami— lies face. Single mothers often have no partner to turn to to give them a helping hand during the rou— tine crises and struggles outlined earlier. Further— more, most female heads of households work at two full—time jobs (in the labor force and at home). The result is often stress, frustration, and exhaustion, which, in turn, influence the caring and rearing of Children (Berrick, 1995; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Sidel, 1996). For'single men and women in poverty, impover- ishment also exerts a stressful weight upon their shoulders. In these cases, particularly among the elderly, this weight can be exasperated by a physi— cal or mental disability. For example, in my study of welfare recipients (Rank, 1994), many of the single men and women who were receiving some form of public assistance also had physical and mental dis— abilities, which, in combination with poverty, cre- ated significant levels of stress in their lives. Poverty also exerts considerable stress on mar- ried couples, as is discussed later. It serves to inten— sify the areas of friction that couples routinely encounter. The result is an increase in marital dis— satisfaction, Violence, and divorce. The daily trials and tribulations of living in poverty place a heavy strain on the poor. The con— stant battle they wage against the formidable pres- sures exerted by poverty results in considerable anxieties and tensions. These anxieties affect not only the individual, but spill over into relationships with family members and friends. Stunted Growth Having to do without, combined with the stress of living in poverty, often produces a stunting of growth. Sometimes this stunting is visibly apparent, but it often lies beneath the surface. In addition, the longer the duration of poverty and the greater the 308 depth of poverty, the greater the negative effects- generally are. These negative impacts occur in a wide variety of areas, but are perhaps most salient in the stunting of young children’s physical and mental growth. Poor infants and young children in the United States are much more likely to have lower levels of physical and mental growth (as measured in a vari— ety of ways) when compared to their nonpoor coun— terparts (Duncan & Brooks—Gunn, 1997; Korenman & Miller, 1997; Smith, Brooks-Gum, & Klebanov, 1997). Furthermore, both the duration and depth of poverty intensify these negative outcomes. For example, in their research on poverty’s effects on young children’s cognitive and verbal ability and early school achievement, Smith et al. (1997, p. 164) reported: ' Duration of poverty has very negative effects on chil~ dren’s IQ, verbal ability, and achievement scores. Children who lived in persistently poor families scored 6—9 points lower on the various assessments than children who were never poor. In addition, the negative effects of persistent poverty seem to get stronger as the child gets older. . . . The effects of family poverty varied dramatically depending on whether a family was very poor (family income below 50 percent of the poverty level), poor, or near poor. Children in the very poor group had s'cores 7—12 points lower than did children in the near—poor group. Likewise, in a study that examined the impact of the duration of poverty upon children’s mental health, McLeod and Shanahan (1993) found that the length of time spent in poverty was directly associated with children’s feelings of unhappiness, anxiety, and dependence. As children grow older and if they continue to reside in poverty, the disadvantages of growing up poor multiply. These disadvantages include attend- ing inferior schools (Schiller, 1998), coping with the problems associated with disadvantaged neigh— borhoods (Brooks—Gunn, Duncan, & Aber, 1997), residing in less educationally stimulating home environments (Mayer, 1997), having health needs left unattended to (Sherman, 1994), among a host of other disadvantages. By the time they reach their early 20s, poor children are often at a significant CLASS DIVERSITIES 1N FAMILIES , disadvantage in their ability to compete effectively in the labor market, which, in turn, increases their risk of experiencing poverty as adults (as is dis- cussed in the concluding section). As adults age, the stunting effects of poverty become less pronounced but are nevertheless still real. These effects include poor physical and men— tal health, lower productivity as workers, and reduced participation in civic activities and other aspects of life (Rank, 1997). Compounding the daily experience of living in stress and doing without, a third bitter taste of poverty involves not being able to achieve the full development of one’s own and one’s children’s potential. This is perhaps the most painful pill to swallow, for it represents the undercutting of the capabilities found in all of us. WHAT IMPACT DOES POVERTY HAVE ON FAMILY DYNAMICS? Just as poverty affects individual development and growth, it can also influence family dynamics and relationships, particularly for those who experience long—term bouts of poverty. Several of these effects are discussed next. Extended Kinship Various anthropological studies (see, for example, Edin & Lein, 1997; Harvey, 1993; Lewis, 1966; Stack, 1974) have indicated that those in poverty are more likely than the nonpoor to use a large net- work of kin to exchange resources and services. This extended network serves as a coping mecha— nism for dealing with the uncertainties and hard- ships of poverty that were discussed earlier. For example, in her study of a poor, black com— munity called The Flats, Stack (1974) found that it was virtually impossible for families to cover com- pletely their various expenses and needs on their own. Consequently, a system of collective sharing arose within The Flats as an adaptive strategy for surviving the daily uncertainties and depravity of poverty. As Stack wrote: In the final months of my life in The Flats, I learned that poverty creates a necessity for this exchange of Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families goods and services. The needs of families living at bare subsistence are so large compared to their aver— age daily income that it is impossible for families to provide independently for fixed expenses and daily needs. Lacking any surplus of funds, they are forced to use most of their resources for major monthly bills: rent, utilities, and foods. After a family pays these bills they are penniless. (p. 29) This system of exchange encompassed a wide net— work of kin and friends in The Flats. Only through such a collective response were families able to get through the daily trials and tribulations of long—term poverty. .' Likewise, in Harvey’s (1993) ethnographic study of a white, displaced farming population that had located in a community called Potter Addition, asimilar process of mutual sharing and obligation developed across a wide network of kin. Family and kin members could be counted on to help in various situations, just as they would receive assistance from others. Likelihood of Marriage As with kinship, a long line of ethnographic, socio— logical, and demographic studies (see, for example, Cheal, 1996; Lewis, 1966; Rank, 1994; Stack, 1974) have indicated that the likelihood of marriage is substantially reduced among the poverty stricken when compared with the nonpoor. The fundamental reason for this relationship is that individuals who contemplate marriage generally seek (or desire to be) economically secure partners (Becker, 1981; Cherlin, 1996). Since poverty undermines the avail- ability of such partners, individuals in these situa— tions are more likely to delay or forgo marriage. Most recently and well known within this vein of research has been the work of Wilson (1987; 1996). Wilson’s analyses have focused on theincreasing problems found in the inner city among blacks and the reasons why such problems appear to have worsened over the past three decades. A critical fac— tor in understanding the falling rate of marriage in the inner—city population has been the recent eco— nomic restructuring that has resulted in the move- ment of capital and job opportunities out of central— city areas. As Wilson (1987, p. 145) wrote: 309 The black delay in marriage and the lower rate of remarriage, each associated with high percentages of out—of—wedlock births and female—headed households, can be directly tied to the employment status of black males. Indeed, black women, especially young black women, are confronting a shrinking pool of “mar— riageable” (that is economically stable) men. As a result, Wilson argued, the rate of marriage in poverty-stricken'inner cities is considerably lower than that within the general population. Childbearing Demographic data indicate that there is an associa- tion between lower levels of income and higher rates of fertility. For example, if one examines the total number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in 1995, one finds that women residing in fami- lies with incomes below $10,000 had a rate of 91.0, those with family incomes between $30,000 and $34,999 had a rate of 60.6, and those with family incomes over $75,000 had a rate of 53.1 (US. Bureau of the Census, 1997), Looking at women aged 15 to 29 reveals even more striking rates: 132.7, 89.2, and 28.9, respectively. In addition, women at lower income and educa— tional levels tend to have children at earlier ages and are more likely to bear children out of wedlock. For example, the fertility rates per 1,000 unmarried women aged 18 to 24 are 300.9 for those with 0 to 8 years of education, 123.5 for women with 12 years of education, and 23.7 for those with 13 to 15 years of education (National Center for Health Sta— tistics, 1997). Two factors appear critical in understanding why poverty is associated with these patterns. First, research indicates that the poor have less access to information on birth control (Luker, 1996). In addi— tion, the poor are least able to afford contraception (especially abortion). As a result, poor women are more likely than nonpoor women to report that they have experienced unwanted or unintended births (Maynard, 1997). Second, women in dire poverty, particularly teenagers, have high fertility rates because they perceive the lack of future opportuni— ties (Dash, 1989). In a world of negatives, having a child may be seen as one of the few positive actions 310 one can take (Anderson, 1990; Stack, 1974; Wilson, 1996). The Children’s Defense Fund (1985, p. 3) _ expressed this idea aptly: “In many ways, the best contraceptive is a real future.” Marital Dissatisfaction and Dissolution Research has consistently found that poverty and lower income are associated with a greater risk of separation and divorce, as well as spousal and child violence (Drake & Pandey, 1996; Gelles, 1993; Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996; US. Bureau of the Census, 1992). When unemployment precipitates a fall into poverty (as discussed earlier), it can place a tremendous strain on a marriage. Research has shown that the impact of unemployment on the marital relationship is deleterious (Vosler, 1996), yet when unemployment is blended with poverty, the, combination may be particularly destructive (Voydanoff, 1990). ‘ In short, married couples in poverty tend to face significant economic stress, which negatively affects their levels of marital happiness and well— being (Conger, Ge, & Lorenz, 1994). This pattern, in turn, increases the likelihood that couples will attempt to resolve such dissatisfaction through sep— aration or divorce. A WIDER CONTEXT This chapter’s brief overview of the landscape of US. poverty has revealed several prominent fea— tures in the terrain. Among these features are that children have become the age group with the high- est risk of poverty, that the duration of poverty for , many American households is short term but peri— odic, that those with less advantageous labor mar— ket characteristics are much more likely to be poor and for longer periods, that the United States leads the developed world in the extent and severity of its poverty, and that poverty entails significant material and psychological hardships for individuals and families. ’ To conclude this chapter, I briefly place these findings within a larger conceptual framework. I have argued (Rank, 1994, forthcoming) that an CLASS DlVERSlTlES lN FAMILIES understanding of the patterns and characteristics of poverty is enhanced through a framework I have called structural vulnerability. Three components make up this framework: the tenuous condition of economic vulnerability, the importance of social class, and the lack of opportunities for all Ameri— cans. Each is discussed briefly next. The first factor is the concept of economic vul— nerability. Individuals and families who are more likely . to experience poverty often have a set of attributes that place them at a disadvantage vis— a—vis their earnings ability in the labor market. As I have discussed in this chapter, these attributes include a variety of characteristics, such as a low level of edu— cation, being black or Hispanic, having a disability, being female, living in a single-parent family, and residing in an inner city. For various structural and human capital reasons, such characteristics often limit the earnings potential of individuals. However, these attributes do not simply cause poverty. What they often do is to place an individual and family in an economically vulnerable position when faced with a crisis like the loss of a job, severe illness, and having a child out of wedlock. Individ- uals and families who are marginalized in terms of their ability to participate in the free market system will have a more difficult time weathering such crises. When such an event takes place, it can often reduce members of these households to poverty for a period until they are able to get back on their feet. For many households, that period will be short; for others, it may be longer (as I noted earlier). Think of economic hardship as walking a fine line. If nothing out of the ordinary happens, many of these families are able just to get by. However, if a crisis occurs, it generally propels the household into an economic tailspin. These families are indeed living on the edge. For example, many of the families who I inter— viewed for my book, Living on the Edge (Rank, 1994), were straddling the borderline between self- sufficiency and dependence. One wrong step, and they were likely to land back in poverty and on wel— fare. They simply did not have the resources and assets necessary to tide them over for more than several weeks. The phrase “one paycheck away from poverty” is particularly apt. These patterns are Poverty and Economic Hardship in Families consistent with the dynamics and events that pre— cipitate poverty, as I reviewed earlier. Conseqtiently, the first critical factor in under— standing the occurrence of poverty is the concept of economic vulnerability. People who have fewer skills and education, or who live in populations that have traditionally faced greater discrimination and barriers in the labor market (e. g., racial minorities and women) are more likely to be adversely affected When a crisis occurs. Given that skills and education bear on poverty (by causing various degrees of vulnerability), why are individuals lacking them in the first place? Obviously, there are a number of reasons for this situation, but a major reason that is often ignored in this country is the importance of social class. This is the second component of the structural vulnera- bility framework. Analyses of the American system of stratifica— tion have Shown that although some amount of social mobility does occur, social class as a whole tends to reproduce itself (Beeghley, 1996). Those whose parents are from the working or lower class are likely to remain working— or lower class them— selves. Similarly, those whose parents are affluent are likely to remain affluent. Why? Differences in parental class result in significant differences in the resources and opportunities available to children. These differences, in turn, affect children’s future life chances and outcomes, including the accumula— tion of skills and education. While it is possible for someone to rise from rags to riches, doing so tends to be much more the exception than the rule. Like- wise, race and sex are inherited qualities that often affect and shape future life chances, including edu- cation and skills. A game analogy illustrates this process of class reproduction. Imagine three players beginning a game of Monopoly. Normally, each player is given $1,500 at the start of the game. Thus, the playing field is level, with each player’s outcome deter— mined by the roll of the dice, as well as his or her own skills and judgments. Now let us imagine a modified game of Monop- oly, in which the players start out with different advantages and disadvantages, much as they would in life. Player 1 begins with $5,000 and several 311 Monopoly properties on which houses have already been built. Player 2 starts out with the standard $1,500 and no properties. Finally, player 3 begins the game with only $250. ' Who will be the winners and losers in this mod- ified game of Monopoly? Both luck and skill are still involved, but given the different sets of resources and assets that each player begins with, they become much less important in predicting the game’s outcome. Certainly, it is possible for player 1, with $5,000, to lose, and for player 3, with $250, to win, but that outcome is unlikely, given the unequal allocation of money at the start of the game. Moreover, while player 3 may win in any individual game, over the course of hundreds of games (with the modified starting conditions just enumerated), the odds are that player 1 will win considerably more often, even if player 3 is much luckier and more skilled. _ In a similar fashion, children from lower— or working—class backgrounds simply do not have the range and depth of opportunities that children from middle— or upper—class backgrounds do. The earlier discussion of poverty’s impact on children’s devel— opment and the vast differences in educational quality by residence and income quickly illuminate the magnitude of these differences in opportunity. Thus, to understand why people lack skills and education in the first place, one important place to look is the impact that growing up in a low—income family versus a well—to-do family has on a child’s economic outcome. This impact is often overlooked in political and policy discussions, but unfortu- nately the class into which a person is born has wide—ranging implications for the person’s life course. As Billie Holiday sang 50 years ago, “Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose. So the Bible says, and it still is news.” The third critical factor in understanding poverty from a structural vulnerability perspective is the lack of opportunities for all American citizens. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that the rea- sons underlying poverty have little to do with coun- terproductive attitudes among the poverty stricken or with a welfare system that is supposedly too gen- erous. Rather, poverty is ultimately due to the inability of the US. economic, social, and political 312 systems to provide decent opportunities for all citi- zens (Rank, 1994). Another game analogy illustrates this point and the shift in thinking that I believe is needed to con— front poverty. From a structural vulnerability per- spective, what we are doing in this country is play— ing a large—scale version of the game of musical chairs. The key to this analogy is whether we choose to analyze the losers of the game or the game itself. ' Let us imagine 8 chairs and 10 players. The'play- ers begin to circle around the chairs until the music stops. Who fails to find a chair? If we focus on the winners and losers of the game, we will conclude that some combination of luck and skill is involved. In all likelihood, the losers will be those in an unfa- vorable position when the music stops, somewhat slower, less agile, and so on. In one sense, these are appropriately cited as the reasons for losing the Bani - However, if we focus on the game itself, then it is clear that given only eight chairs, tWo players are bound to lose. Even if every player was suddenly to double his or her speed and agility, there would still be two losers. From this broader context, it really does not matter what the loser’s characteristics are, given that two are destined to lose. I would argue that this musical-chairs analogy can be applied to what has been occurring in the United States economically, socially, and politi- cally. Given that there is unemployment; that the country is producing more and more low—paying jobs without benefits; that countless inner—city and rural communities have been devastated by eco- nomic restructuring; that there is a scarcity of decent-quality, affordable child care; and that there are few provisions to care for those who can no longer participate in the economy because of ill- ness, someone is going to lose at this game. The losers are generally those who lack skills, REFERENCES Anderson, E. (1990). Streeth'se: Race, class, and change in an urban community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. CLASS DIVERSITIES IN FAMILIES I education, and training and therefore cannot com— pete as effectively and are more vulnerable than their counterparts who have acquired greater skills and education. In one sense, we can focus on these deficits, such as the lack of education, as the rea- sons why some individuals are at a greater risk of becoming poor. Yet, if we focus on the game itself, then the causes of poverty move from the individual’s lack of skills or education to the fact that the economy produces unemployment, creates low—paying jobs, bypasses low-income communities, lacks affordable child care, and does not provide for those who can no longer participate economically due to an illness. These, then, become the more fundamental reasons why so many people are poor in this country. When we focus solely on personal characteris— tics, such as education, we can shuffle individual people up or down in'terms of their being more likely to find a job, but someone will still lose out if there are not enough decent—paying jobs to go around. In short, we are playing a game of musical chairs in this country with 10 players but only 8 chairs. In summary, to understand the dynamics and characteristics of poverty in the United States, the three components of structural vulnerability are heuristic—the tenuous condition of economic vul- nerability, the importance of social class, and the lack of opportunities for all in this country. Much of the earlier patterns of poverty can be understood within the general rubric of this structural vulnera- bility perspective. Perhaps what is the most salient for this Handbook is that the experience of poverty disproportionately affects many of the families dis— cussed in this volume (e.g., minority families and single—parent families). 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