The Causes and Effects of Poverty in the United States

1. Introduction

Poverty has been a persistent problem in the United States and according to the latest data from 2017, 13.4 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty line. This means that about one in eight Americans are struggling to make ends meet. While the poverty rate has declined since its peak in 2011, it is still higher than it was before the Great Recession began in 2007.

There are many factors that contribute to why some people are poor and others are not. In this essay, we will discuss some of the causes of poverty in the United States and how it affects different groups of people. We will also suggest some solutions that could help reduce poverty in our country.

2. What is Poverty?
-Poverty as a concept

When most people think of poverty, they think of it as simply not having enough money to buy food or pay rent. However, economists define it more broadly as an individual not having access to the resources that are necessary to live a socially acceptable life. This includes things like adequate housing, healthcare, education, and transportation.

In order to provide a more accurate picture of poverty, economists have developed different ways of measuring it. One common method is called the “poverty line” which is an imaginary line that represents the minimum amount of money required to meet basic needs. The poverty line is different in every country and is updated every year to account for inflation. In 2017, the poverty line for a single person in the United States was $12,140 per year and $24,600 for a family of four.

-Poverty in the United Sates
As mentioned earlier, the official poverty rate in the United States is 13.4 percent which means that about 43 million Americans are living below the poverty line. However, this number does not take into account government assistance programs like food stamps or housing subsidies which can help alleviate some of the financial burden for low-income families. When these programs are taken into account, the poverty rate goes down to 10 percent or about 33 million people.

The poverty rate varies widely by state with Mississippi having the highest rate at 20 percent and New Hampshire having the lowest at 6 percent. There is also a significant difference between rural and urban areas with 15 percent of rural populations living in poverty compared to only 11 percent of urban populations.

3. Causes of Poverty in the United States
-Welfare Programs

One of the most controversial topics when it comes to poverty is welfare programs and whether or not they are effective at reducing poverty levels. Welfare programs are government assistance programs that provide financial assistance to low-income individuals or families who are struggling to make ends meet. These programs can include things like food stamps, housing subsidies, and cash assistance payments.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform bill that created time limits on how long recipients could receive benefits and put stricter requirements on who was eligible for assistance. The goal of these reforms was to move people off of welfare and into jobs but critics argue that it actually made it harder for people to escape poverty because they no longer had a safety net if they lost their job or ran into other financial difficulties. As a result of these reforms, the number of people receiving welfare benefits declined from 12 million in 1996 to 4 million today.

Another major cause of poverty is unemployment which can prevent individuals from being able to earn enough money to support themselves or their families. While the unemployment rate has declined significantly since its peak during the Great Recession in 2009, it is still relatively high at 4.1 percent. This means that there are about 6.7 million people who are looking for work but cannot find a job.

There are many reasons why someone might be unemployed such as not having the necessary skills for the jobs that are available or being unable to find child care so they can work. However, the most common reason for unemployment is simply not being able to find a job that pays enough to cover basic needs like housing, food, and transportation.

-Lack of Education and Job Opportunities
A lack of education and job opportunities can also lead to poverty because it limits an individual’s ability to get a good-paying job. According to the latest data from 2016, only about one-third of adults in the United States have a college degree which leaves them at a disadvantage when competing for jobs against those who do have a degree.

In addition, many poor communities lack the resources that would provide residents with access to good jobs. For example, someone who lives in a rural area may have trouble finding a job that pays enough to cover their transportation costs or someone who lives in an urban area may not have access to child care so they can work.

4. The Impact of Poverty on different Groups

Poverty has a particularly harmful effect on children because it can negatively impact their health, education, and overall development. Poor children are more likely to suffer from health problems like asthma, obesity, and diabetes. They are also more likely to drop out of school and struggle academically. In fact, children who grow up in poverty are less likely to graduate from college and more likely to live in poverty as adults.

Poverty also takes a toll on families as it can lead to stress and conflict which can damage relationships. Poor families are also more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods and have inadequate housing which can further contribute to stress levels. In addition, children who grow up in poverty are more likely to experience abuse and neglect than those who do not.

Women are also disproportionately affected by poverty as they make up the majority of single parents and low-wage workers. In addition, women are more likely than men to experience intimate partner violence which can lead to homelessness or financial insecurity. Women living in poverty also have a higher risk of developing health problems like anxiety and depression.

5. Solutions to Poverty
-Providing more Job Opportunities

One solution to reduce poverty is by providing more job opportunities for low-income individuals. This can be done by investing in infrastructure projects or providing tax incentives for businesses to locate in poor communities. These investments would create jobs for residents and help them escape poverty.

-Improving Education
Improving education is another solution to reduce poverty as it would allow individuals to get better jobs and earn more money. This can be done by investing in early childhood education programs or providing financial assistance for adults seeking higher education degrees or training programs. These investments would help individuals escape poverty and increase their economic mobility.

-Making Welfare Programs More Effective
Another solution to reduce poverty is by making welfare programs more effective. This can be done by increasing the amount of money that recipients receive, making it easier to qualify for assistance, or extending the time limit for how long someone can receive benefits. These changes would make it easier for people to escape poverty and improve their standard of living.

6. Conclusion

Poverty is a complex problem with many causes and effects. In order to reduce poverty levels in the United States, we need to invest in programs that create jobs, provide financial assistance, and improve access to education. We also need to make sure that our welfare programs are more effective at helping people escape poverty. only then can we hope to reduce poverty levels in our country.


Some primary causes of poverty in the United States include a lack of access to education and job opportunities, discrimination, and a lack of social safety nets.

Poverty impacts individuals and families in the United States by causing them to struggle to meet their basic needs, leading to poor health outcomes, and trapping them in a cycle of poverty.

Children living in poverty in the United States face unique challenges such as food insecurity, poor educational outcomes, and increased exposure to violence.

Poverty affects access to education, healthcare, and other basic needs in the United States by causing families to struggle to pay for these services, limiting their availability in low-income communities, and making it difficult for people to get to them.

Efforts that have been made to reduce poverty in the United States include increasing access to education and job training programs, expanding social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid, and raising the minimum wage. These efforts have been somewhat effective at reducing poverty levels overall, but there is still much room for improvement.

An ideal solution to eradicate poverty in the United States would be one that addresses all of its root causes, including a lack of access to education and job opportunities, discrimination, and a lack of social safety nets