UW News

August 16, 2011

Poverty rates the same as in mid-1960s, but far more kids are poor

Fewer seniors but more children are poor since the War on Poverty began more than 40 years ago. Also, despite persistent efforts in both the public and private sectors, poverty rates in the U.S. have remained stubbornly the same since the mid-1960s.

It is because wages for low-skill workers have declined, more households are headed by single women and more immigrants arrive in the U.S. with little education, according to research from the Evans School of Public Affairs at University of Washington.

Robert Plotnick, a professor at the Evans School, found that the interplay between earnings, education and demography results in about 14 percent of the U.S. population consistently stuck in poverty. He also found that in 2009, the latest date for which census figures are available, the poverty rate among children was 20.1 percent — 50 percent higher than in 1969. (Note: In the hyperlink to U.S. Census information on poverty, go to Table 3: Poverty Status, by Age, Race and Hispanic Origin.)

Income supports and tax policies, especially the earned-income tax credit, have helped poor households, Plotnick found, but declining real earnings and demographic changes have worked against these improvements.

Plotnicks research is to be published mid-2012 in the “Handbook of the Economics of Poverty” (Oxford University Press).

He argues that economic conditions in the next decade will do little to improve low-skill workers incomes. His research also suggests that the increasing share of births to unmarried parents and growing share of relatively disadvantaged minorities will increase poverty.  At the same time, Plotnicks analysis shows that slowing immigration and reduced growth of single-parent families will tend to reduce poverty.

Plotnick recommends several policy options, including:

  • Significant expansion of workforce development programs.
  • Providing additional subsidies for child care, paid family leave and paid sick leave.
  • Reducing job barriers for former prison inmates.
  • Increasing the earned-income tax credit, as it could encourage greater work effort among the poor.
  • Expanding family-planning services for low-income women, and improving enforcement of child support.



For additional information, contact Plotnick at 206-685-2055 or at plotnick@uw.edu .