Distinguish the structural and individual explanations of poverty.

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.

List the major effects of poverty.

This body of research strongly suggests that public support for government aid for the poor is weak because so much of the public attributes poverty to failings among the poor themselves. If so, the public might very well begin to endorse greater government aid if its attribution for poverty became more structural instead of individual. Public education campaigns that call attention to the lack of opportunity and other structural problems that account for poverty thus might further poverty policy by beginning to change public perceptions of the poor.


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The average poverty rate of Western democracies excluding the United States is 9.8%. The U.S. rate is thus 1.73 times greater than this average.


Which explanation of poverty makes the most sense to you? Why?

Explanations of poverty focus on problems either within the poor themselves or in the society inwhich they live. These two types of explanations reflect the functionalist and conflict views,respectively.

Reducing U.S. Poverty: What Sociology Suggests

Although the official poverty line measure has been criticized for several reasons, in 2007 about12.5% of the U.S. population, or more than 37 million people, were living in official poverty.

Attributions for Poverty and Public Education Campaigns

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.

Strengthen efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies.

Do you agree with the criticism of the official measure of poverty in the United States, or do youthink it is probably accurate enough because it has been used since the 1960s? Explain your answer.

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The poor are, not surprisingly, more likely to be homeless than the nonpoor but also more likely tolive in dilapidated housing and unable to buy their own homes. Many poor families spend more thanhalf their income on rent. The lack of adequate housing for the poor remains a major nationalproblem.