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Poverty Facts vs. Myths

Poverty is misunderstood by too many people. Here are the facts…

Minimum Wage Facts vs. Myths


Unfortunately, there are tons of myths about poverty. Here’s some information that will help you set the record straight.

  • Poverty only exists in third-world countries.

    MYTH!  Poverty only exists in third-world countries.

    FACT: In 2019, over 34 million Americans lived in poverty (10.5%), down approximately 4.2 million (11.8%) in 2018.   In 2019, of the 12,394,00 million PA residents, approximately 1,517,000 people live in poverty.  2020 numbers are still being calculated.

    Sources: US Census and Talk Poverty

  • Poverty is all about laziness.

    MYTH!  Poverty is all about laziness.

    FACT: Poverty is all about personal stress not laziness.  Stress is a key contributor to poverty.  Economists are accumulating evidence that instead of being indolent lay-abouts, poor people are harried and frantic, which results in subpar decisions.

    Source: Bloomberg Opinion Article - Requires a subscription to read, but you can listen to the 4 minute audio article for free.

    Even pre-pandemic, The majority of poor people who can work do.  in 2103, 63% of people in poverty were working; 37% were not. 

    Source:  Economic Policy Institute

  • Even pre-pandemic, the US had the 2nd highest child poverty rate among developed nations (23.1%).

    FACT! The US had the 2nd highest child poverty rate among developed nations (23.1%) even in 2012

    MYTH: Compared to other developed nations, the US has relatively low poverty rates.  More than 10 million children—nearly 1 in 7 (14.4 percent)—lived in poverty in 2019, the most recent year for which U.S. Census Poverty Data are available. 1 The child poverty rate is one-and-a-half times higher than that for adults ages 18-64 (9.4 percent) and adults 65 and older (8.9 percent)

    Source: Common Dreams and Chlldren's Defense Org.

  • There is no such thing as the "working poor."

    Myth!  Full-time workers continued to be much less likely to be among the working poor than part-time workers. Among people in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, 2.8 percent of those usually employed full time were classified as working poor, compared with 11.1 percent of part-time workers.

    Fact:  About 38.1 million people, or 11.8 percent of the nation’s population, lived below the official poverty level in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Although the poor were primarily adults who had not participated in the labor force during the year and children, 7.0 million individuals were among the “working poor” in 2018,

    Source:  U.S. Department Of Labor Statistics

  • In America, a family of 4 can still get by making $24,000 annually.

    MYTH: In America, you cannot get by living below the poverty line.

    FACT: A family of 4 living in poverty makes only $24,300 annually is below the poverty line of $26,500

    Source:  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

  • A high school degree doesn't improve earnings that much.

    Myth:  A high school degree doesn't improve earnings that much.

    Truth:  Education reduces the likelihood of being poor.  It is often said – and with good reason – that education pays. People without a high school diploma are much more likely than other groups to be among the working poor. Among workers with less than a high school diploma who were in the labor force at least 27 weeks, 13.7 percent were among the working poor in 2016. High school graduates, on the other hand, had a working poor rate of 6.9 percent.

    The rate for those with some college but no degree was 6.0 percent. People with associate degrees had a working poor rate of 3.8 percent. Of those workers with bachelor’s or higher degrees, only 1.4 percent were among the working poor.

    Source:  State of Oregon Employment Department 2020 report

  • Negative attitudes about low-income people affect the poor.

    Fact!  Nearly a billion people worldwide are living with their families on less than $2 per day, and yet people believe the poor have only themselves to blame, that they are poor because of a moral failing or bad decisions made in life. Negative attitudes and beliefs about low-income people and communities result in stigma, decreased empathy, social and cognitive distancing from people experiencing poverty and lower support for poverty alleviation programs and policies.

    Myth:  If we work above the poverty line, we don't have to examine our biases or help identify the systematic, underlying mechanisms driving income insecurity.

    Source:  A statement of Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, president of the American Psychological Association, marking World Poverty Day 2019

  • A large portion of my tax dollars supports welfare recipients.

    MYTH!  A large portion of my tax dollars supports welfare recipients.

    FACT: 10% of the Federal budget supports “safety net programs” – of which 1% supports TANF or “welfare”.


    Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

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