If you do not subscribe to the US Census Bureau updates, you are missing out on a lot of great information. Yesterday, the update was about poverty, how to measure it, and the latest data on the subject. So, if you teach poverty (and don’t we all), the following are some pretty interesting and discussion-starting visualizations.

First off, of course, we are all familiar with the official poverty line and its shortcomings. So, the USCB uses a supplemental measure designed to overcome these shortcomings. The differences between the two measures are summarized in this nifty infographic (click on all the images for a larger view):


How many people are poor and how long do they stay that way? According to the Census Bureau summary:

“31.6 percent of Americans were in poverty for at least two months from 2009 to 2011, a 4.5 percentage point increase over the prerecession period of 2005 to 2007. Poverty was a temporary state for most people; however, 3.5 percent of Americans were in poverty for the entire three-year period.”

Visually, things look like this (pdf version here):


These data and visualizations are related to a new report on poverty from the Census Bureau. The basic concepts it uses are as follows:

Poverty definitions

So, using these different measures, here are some of the results.

First off, the overall picture:

Poverty overall

No big surprise here. Poverty rates were higher after the recession than before. Note that the use of a three-year panel overestimates episodic poverty compared to calendar year measures, and underestimates chronic poverty compared to calendar year measures. It’s pretty obvious why (people in poverty for more than 2 months but less than three years).

Now, let’s look at chronic and episodic poverty with various demographics:

Poverty chronic and episodic

No surprise here either: blacks and female-householder families lead the pack on chronic poverty,followed by Hispanics and under 18.  On the other hand, whites, seniors, and married-couple families have lower rates of chronic poverty. These trends are the same for episodic poverty, but with higher rates.

More specific data show the same trend as well:

Poverty by demographics

Now looking more specifically at poverty entry rates:

Poverty entries by demographics 2009 2011

The same categories of people as above entered poverty in higher than the overall rate between 2009 and 2011.

Now, poverty exit rates:

Poverty exits by demographics 2009 2011

Again, this time, one would look at rate below the overall rate to determined which categories of people have a harder time escaping poverty, basically, any rate below 35.4. The pattern we identified above persists.

How long does poverty last? How long is a poverty spell?

Poverty spells

This lopsided trend is interesting. Either a spell is short or it is long, but the middle durations show lower percentages. But the vast majority of spells are a year or less.

Looking at median poverty spells:

Poverty median spells

Here, the only surprise is the rate for 65 and over. Remember, that category had a lower poverty rate but for those who are poor, then, the median spells are longer than the overall median.

This is confirmed by the data on poverty persistence between 2009 and 2011:

Poverty duration

This is all pretty interesting stuff. You can read the full report, if you are so inclined.

I should note though, that poverty spells may be short, but insecurity and precarity are not and take a toll.

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