Voters Define Poverty Much Differently Than the Government Statistics

If a person is laid off from a good job and expects to find another job within 3 months, the federal government would say that person is living in poverty during the three months without income. However, a national survey finds that just 16% of voters believe that person is living in poverty.

Several other examples of this disconnect were found in the survey:

  • The official statistics say that a college student with no income who is supported by her parents and living in an off-campus apartment is living in poverty. Only 15% of voters agree.
  • Just 21% believe that it’s living in poverty when a person who has earned a good middle-class income for many years, loses their job, and takes six months to find a new job.
  • Only 9% believe that someone who takes six months off from work to travel is living in poverty.

In each of the above examples, the person might experience some cash flow challenges along the way, but they are not the images that most people think of as living in poverty.

On the other hand, consider a low-income worker who, over a period of several years, barely made more money than the amount officially defined as the poverty line. According to the government statistics, that person is not living in poverty. But, 74% of voters take the opposite view.

Seventy-six percent (76%) also believe an unemployed person living in an economically distressed area with little education, few social contacts, and limited job prospects is living in poverty.

About 80% of those officially defined as living in poverty don’t really experience anything close to what most of us think of as poverty.  The voter definition is closer to what analysts call chronic poverty. About 2-3% of the population lives in chronic poverty and efforts to assist them are greatly hampered by flawed poverty statistics.

The flaws in the government data trace their roots to the 1960s and the War on Poverty. At the time, experts assumed that most who experienced poverty did so for extended periods of time. It turns out that assumption was inaccurate. Data collected over the years shows that half of those officially defined as living in poverty get out of “poverty” within four months or less. Those people are like some of the examples earlier in this article.

Another problem with the data is that the government figures do not account for differences in cost of living between regions. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of voters believe they should.  Because of that flaw, the government figures consistently overestimate the reality of poverty in rural southern states and underestimate poverty in urban areas throughout the rest of the nation.

I address these and related issues in my latest book, The Sun Is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not

Data released earlier showed that 84% of voters consider poverty in America to be a serious problem. However, there is much skepticism about the effectiveness of government programs to address the issue.

The national survey of 1,000 Registered Voters was conducted November 7-8, 2018 by and HarrisX, a polling company specializing in online surveys (see Methodology and the demographic profile of our sample). It has a 3.1 percentage point Margin of Error with a 95% level of confidence.

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Neither Scott Rasmussen nor has any relationship with Rasmussen Reports® (see About Us).

Posted in Poll Results

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