, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 499-519

Why poverty remains high: The role of income growth, economic inequality, and changes in family structure, 1949–1999

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After dramatic declines in poverty from 1950 to the early 1970s in the United States, progress stalled. This article examines the association between trends in poverty and income growth, economic inequality, and changes in family structure using three measures of poverty: an absolute measure, a relative measure, and a quasi-relative one. I found that income growth explains most of the trend in absolute poverty, while inequality generally plays the most significant role in explaining trends in relative poverty. Rising inequality in the 1970s and 1980s was especially important in explaining increases in poverty among Hispanics, whereas changes in family structure played a significant role for children and African Americans through 1990. Notably, changes in family structure no longer had a significant association with trends in poverty for any group in the 1990s.

Material in this article also appears in Poverty in America: A Handbook, by John Iceland. Copyright © 2003 by The Regents of the University of California. The article does not reflect the official views of the U.S. Census Bureau. It reports the results of research and analyses undertaken by the bureau’s staff and has undergone a more limited review than the bureau’s official publications. It is released to inform interested parties of research and to encourage discussion.