North America

US Census Bureau, Public Information Office
19 August 1996

Almost One-half of the Nation's Chronically Poor Are Children

Children made up almost half (48 percent) of the chronically poor during 1992 and 1993, the Commerce Department's Census Bureau said today. Over the same period, the elderly accounted for 11 percent of the chronically poor. Chronic (or long-term) poverty refers to a situation in which families stayed below the poverty cutoff every month during 1992 and 1993.

Poverty in the U.S. is based on a familyžs income compared to the family's poverty threshold, that is determined by the size of the family, the number of children, and the age of the householder. For example, the average poverty threshold in 1993 for a family of four was $14,763.

These findings were published in Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty, 1992-1993, Who Stays Poor? Who Doesn't?, P70-55, a report based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The SIPP is a continuing monthly survey of approximately 20,000 households across the country. The survey makes it possible to measure movement into and out of poverty and to distinguish between short-term and long-term poverty. The SIPP also measures participation in government-assistance programs, as well as economic well-being.

The report shows that children (persons under 18) were more likely than non-elderly adults (persons 18 to 64) to remain poor over a two-year period. According to author T. J. Eller, The differences in chronic poverty are striking. Eight percent of children versus 3 percent of non-elderly adults were poor in all 24 months of 1992 and 1993. About 5 percent of the elderly population (persons 65 and over) were chronically poor during the same period.

Other findings from the report include:

- About 5 percent of the nationžs population, or 12 million people, were chronically poor in 1992 and 1993.

- Based on annual estimates, about 22 percent of people who were poor in 1992 were not poor in 1993. People in married-couple families were more likely to exit poverty (29 percent) than people in other types of families (12 percent).

- Half of poverty spells lasted 4.9 months or longer. (Poverty spells are defined as two or more consecutive months below the poverty line.)

- Half of poverty spells experienced by African Americans lasted 6.2 months or longer, compared to 4.6 months or longer for Whites.

The data presented here were collected in a sample survey, and are therefore subject to sampling variability as well as reporting and coverage errors.

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