Poverty is a state where an individual is incapable of affording basic human needs such as food, clean water, education, shelter, and health care as a result of meager income. It is argued that over 1.5 % of Americans were living in poverty in 2010. This rate is considered the highest since 1993. Since the late 1950s, poverty levels have been rising and falling. For example, almost 39.5 Americans were living in poverty in 1950. This number declined gradually through the 1960s, reaching a low of 11 % in 1973 (Apergis, Dincer and Payne 134). In the 1980’s this number began to rise again, reaching 15.2 % or 35.3 poor American in 1983. Poverty level remained above 12.8 % for the next 10 years. Although America’s poverty levels dropped to a low of 11.3 % in 2000, a brief recession that was ushered in by the new century halted the nation’s economic progress, thus leading to a rise in poverty levels. Apergis, Dincer and Payne (99) hold that poverty is not only a vital social indicator of the well being of any country, but it is also used to formulate federal policies and target programs that are aimed at aiding those most in need.
There are 386 persistent poverty counties in the United States that are home to almost 4% of America’s population. Rural counties make up the largest majority with 340 counties of 386. Among these rural persistent poverty counties, 60 are in the Midwest and West, and 280 are in the South (Kendall 43). The rural South, which consists of over 40% of Americas rural population exhibit the greatest prevalence of both persistent poverty and poverty. In fact, more than one person in every four lives in persistent poverty and one in every six is poor. While rural and urban areas still share an upward and downward trend in poverty levels, the rural levels exceed urban poverty levels since poverty was first measured in 1959 (Kendall 78). In 2002, 14.2 % of rural dwellers, or 7.5 million people lived in poverty as compared to 11.6 % in urban areas. This difference has been persistence throughout the years, and it becomes more evident when poverty is analyzed by ethnicity, age, race and family structure (Duncan 98). Experts hold that ethnicity and race are strongly correlated with rural poverty. A 2000 report from the United States Census Bureau indicate that ethnic and racial minorities constituted 17 % of rural population, with rural minority population growing in all 50 States. As compared to non-Hispanic whites, minorities exhibit higher poverty rates. This racial disparity is more evident when considering rural poverty, and other attributes, such as depth of poverty and education.
It is asserted that one in every four rural Native American, Hispanic, and Blacks live in abject poverty. Moreover, the rural poverty rates for Native Americans (35%) and Non-Hispanic Blacks (33%) exceeded the poverty rates for non-Hispanic Whites thrice. 68% of rural Hispanics who are poor do not have high school education as compared to 40% of rural non-Hispanic whites who are poor (United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research 1). It is further asserted that 52% of rural Native Americans who languish in poverty have incomes that fall below the poverty line. Below is a graph that indicates the poverty rates by ethnicity and race in 2002. It can be seen that rural Hispanics, Native Americans and Blacks have the highest poverty rates.
Apart from ethnicity and race, family structure, family structure also has a bearing on poverty in rural areas. It is apparent that a family that is headed by two able adults is likely to have more income sources than a family that is headed by a single parent (United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research 1). In this regard, almost 75% of all rural families are headed by two parents, whereas 15% are headed by a single parent. Families that are headed married couples experience the lowest level of rural poverty, at 7.2%. Furthermore, 16.6% of single male-headed families are poor, while the poverty level of female-headed families stands at 37.1%. Duncan (101) argues that the higher poverty rate for families that are headed by single mothers is attributed to lower earnings, lower labor participation rates and shorter average work weeks.
The above discourse reveals that Americans in rural areas are getting poorer. As a result, despair and hopelessness are rising, and that is why the economy must be the number one priority for the government. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence that major political parties are not working on this issue at the moment. Therefore, this situation is going to get worse and worse as year’s go-by. If the government and political parties in particular continue on this path, poverty in rural America and the country as a whole will get worse. This is the opportune time of acting.