Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the problem of income inequality in the U.S.
According to the last U.S. Census, 45.3 million Americans are officially impoverished. However, research suggests that this number may be somewhat misleading.
Mark Rank, social welfare professor at Washington University, and Thomas Hirschl, development sociology professor at Cornell, recently published a long-term study conducted from 1968 to 2011 which focuses on poverty. Their research has revealed that between the ages of 25 and 60, three out of five Americans will live at least one full year in poverty. That’s not even the most shocking part, either: researchers go on to say that 24.9 percent of the population will experience more than five years of poverty, and 42.1 percent will experience extreme poverty.
Rank also suggests that his and Hirschl’s research “indicate[s] that across the American life course there is a large amount of income volatility.” Out of 27 countries that are considered “high income,” the U.S. ranks 27th in median wealth per adult. We also rank 4th on the scale of severe income inequality in the world, according to World Bank statistics.
Rank claimed that in existing research on the subject, there has been a problematic lack of emphasis on relative poverty rather than absolute poverty. He defines relative poverty as a measure of depravation, whereas most would define poverty from a needs-based standard. For example, someone suffering from absolute poverty does not have enough money to cover basic needs in order to survive. Relative poverty, however, is when someone is poor in the context of those around them.
Current statistics (with the exception of this study) use absolute standards. Many argue that this severely underestimates the amount of people actually living in poverty, as it places impoverished Americans on the same scale as impoverished citizens of third-world countries. And when one considers factors such as the extremely high cost of living in many U.S. cities, it becomes even clearer that income inequality is one of the strongest reasons for growing poverty rates.
Yours in health,
Dr. Michael Omidi is the co-founder of No More Poverty, a nonprofit that advocates to change poverty in America and around the world.