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LOCAL News :: Labor & Class

Severely poor are fastest growing segment of U.S. population

Severely poor are fastest growing segment of U.S. population

RICHMOND, Va. (Aug. 29, 2006) – Americans are getting poorer each year despite reports of positive economic growth, and the severely poor are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University study.
For immediate release:
8/29/2006

By Anne Buckley
University News Services

Severely poor are fastest growing segment of U.S. population

VCU study: Trend has disturbing implications for public health

RICHMOND, Va. (Aug. 29, 2006) – Americans are getting poorer each year despite reports of positive economic growth, and the severely poor are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University study.

The percentage of Americans living in severe poverty — earning less than half of the poverty threshold — grew by 20 percent between 2000 and 2004, and the proportion in higher income tiers fell, according to Steven H. Woolf, M.D., professor and director of research in VCU’s Department of Family Medicine and a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.

“These trends have disturbing implications for society and public health,? Woolf said. The authors predicted that increasing poverty would cause “a higher prevalence of chronic illnesses, more frequent and severe disease complications and increased demands and costs for healthcare services.?

The researchers found that the only category of Americans to increase in size were those whose earnings were at least $8,000 below the poverty threshold. That group grew by approximately 50 percent between 2000 and 2004. All other income tiers decreased during these years. The poverty threshold in 2004 for a family of four was $19,307.

The researchers analyzed U.S. Census Bureau figures from 1990 through 2004, and looked at two standards of measurement for severe poverty: the income-to-poverty ratio and the income deficit.

While poverty rates declined in the 1990s, the number of Americans living in severe poverty increased by 3.6 million between 2000 and 2004, according to the study in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The Americans most likely to be living in severe poverty were children and minorities, the study reported.

“This is not just a problem for the poor,? Woolf said. “Except for a small class of highly affluent Americans, income for the entire U.S. population has fallen since 2000.? Woolf and his co-authors describe a “sinkhole effect,? in which “families and individuals in the middle and upper classes appear to be migrating to lower income tiers that bring them closer to the poverty threshold.?

U.S. household income, adjusted for inflation, fell by 3.6% between 2000 and 2004. Woolf says that the sinkhole effect and the upsurge in poverty could deeply affect society in general and public health in particular, and he calls for the reexamination of policies enacted in recent years to foster economic progress.
 
 


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