Poverty Rate

1. Describe racial/ethnic differences in the poverty rate.

2. Discuss how family structure is related to the poverty rate.

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3. Explain what poverty and labor force participation data imply about the belief that many poor people lack the motivation to work.

Who are the poor? Although the official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, this rate differs by the important

sociodemographic characteristics of race/ethnicity, gender, and age, and it also differs by region of the nation and

by family structure. The poverty rate differences based on these variables are critical to understanding the nature

and social patterning of poverty in the United States. We look at each of these variables in turn with 2010 census data.


Here is a quick quiz; please circle the correct answer.

• Most poor people in the United States are

1. Black/African American

2. Latino

3. Native American

4. Asian

5. White

What did you circle? If you are like the majority of people who answer a similar question in public opinion

surveys, you would have circled a. Black/African American. When Americans think about poor people, they tend

to picture African Americans (White, 2007). This popular image is thought to reduce the public’s sympathy for

poor people and to lead them to oppose increased government aid for the poor. The public’s views on these matters

are, in turn, thought to play a key role in government poverty policy. It is thus essential for the public to have an

accurate understanding of the racial/ethnic patterning of poverty.

The most typical poor people in the United States are non-Latino whites. These individuals comprise 42.4 percent of all poor


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