For the third consecutive year, the poverty rate and the number of Americans living in poverty both rose from the prior years. Since 2000, the number of poor Americans has grown by more than 4 million. The official poverty rate in 2003 (the most current year for which figures are available) was 12.5 percent, up from 12.1 percent in 2002. Total Americans below the official poverty thresholds numbered 35.9 million, a figure 1.3 million higher than the 34.6 million in poverty in 2002. (U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003, Current Population Reports, August 2003)
On average, one out of every three Americans - 34.2 percent of all people in the United States - are officially classified as living in poverty at least 2 months out of the year. (U.S. Census Bureau, Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty 1996-1999, July 2003.)
The number of Americans living in severe poverty - with incomes below half of the poverty line - increased by 1.2 million in 2003, to 15.3 million. (U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003, Current Population Reports, August 2003)
Since 1999, the number of poor Americans suffering from "food insecurity" and hunger has increased by 3.9 million - 2.8 million adults and more than one million children. In 2002, 34.9 million people lived in households experiencing food insecurity - that is, not enough food for basic nourishment - compared to 33.6 million in 2001 and 31 million in 1999. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Household Food Security in the United States, 2002, October 2003.)
The American Midwest and South saw the greatest numbers of people entering poverty in 2003; the number in the Midwest rose from 6.6 million to 6.9 million, while the South rose from 14 to 14.5 million people. Yet the two regions stand at the opposite ends of the percentage of people living in poverty for all regions in America. In the Midwest, 10.7 percent of all people live in poverty, compared to 11.3 percent for the Northeast, 12.6 percent for the West, and 14.1 for the South – the highest of all. And within those regions, the central cities and the suburbs saw the greatest rise – to a combined rate of 12.1 percent and 28.4 million people in 2003, up from 11.6 percent and 27.1 million in 2002. (U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003, Current Population Reports, August 2003)
Nine out of ten Americans believe the federal government has a responsibility to alleviate poverty. A strong majority believes that government should do more, not less, to help people move from welfare to work by providing skills needed to be self-sufficient. (Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates, January 2002.)
Copyright © 2004 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Please visit our website at www.povertyusa.org.