Monday, June 25, 2007

What percent of the U.S. population is poor?

Do you have a percent in mind? Go ahead. Just guess.

Is it 13%? That's the federal estimate of percent of people living in poverty.

The latest Barna research is about attitudes toward poverty. And Barna research is always fascinating, though sometimes unintentionally so. The average estimate among people surveyed by Barna of people in poverty in the United States was 30%. But, as I mentioned above, federal statistics estimate the poverty level at around 13%.

While the summary of the search concludes that people misestimate poverty (and the degree to which they misestimate depends on their own wealth), I'm more interested in the fact that perhaps the federal poverty level is a terribly inaccurate measure of poverty.

For example, if Jim and I, a family of two, earned under $13,691*, we'd qualify as poor under federal poverty guidelines. And that's really poor. That's about what I earned for a year of teaching 4/5 time in New Mexico. And it was not livable for one without help.

So when people estimate poverty in the United States at 30%, I'm inclined to think that's not a bad estimate of real poverty levels rather than a misconception of poverty levels as Barna believes.

Read more about the Barna Institute's research on attitudes toward poverty.

*$13,691 is based on federa poverty guidelines, and not federal poverty threshold ($13,500).