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Awareness of poverty in America has been growing in recent years, but there is much to learn about the economic deprivation that affects millions of people throughout the country. Educating oneself is the first step to addressing a major issue. To understand how to combat poverty, we must first understand what poverty is and who is affected by it.

According to businessdictionary.com, poverty arises when a person’s “basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are not being met.” It then explains two different types of poverty. Absolute poverty means one cannot obtain the minimum required amount of resources to maintain the minimum level of physical health. Absolute poverty can also be called destitution and is generally the same around the world. Relative poverty occurs when someone cannot experience basic living standards that are experienced by most of the population. Relative poverty varies from country to country. For example, in the United States, having a television is considered a living standard that most people can afford. If a family could not afford a television, they could be considered relatively poor by American standards.

In the United States, poverty is measured by comparing the income of a household to the determined threshold. The threshold used depends on how many members a household contains. For instance, according to the Institute for Research on Poverty (irp.wisc.edu), in 2015, the threshold for a family of four was $24,257. From these comparisons, the government can measure how many people live below the poverty line. In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that the poverty rate in the country was 13.5%. This means about 43.1 million Americans are currently living in poverty, according to poverty.ucdavis.edu.

Nccp.org, the website for the National Center for Children in Poverty, says that 21% of children, or 15 million children, in the United States live in poverty. The website holds more specific statistics on age groups and what percentage of those age groups live in either low income or poor families.

Povertyusa.org claims that poverty strikes each demographic differently and lists the 2015 numbers for the poverty levels of men, women, those with disabilities, and others. It also mentions poverty between different ethnicities and among children and adults.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides ample information about the current state of poverty in the country. The website, census.gov, features the general poverty rate as well as breakdowns of the rate between ethnicities, sex, and age. It also holds plenty of other useful information. Povertyusa.org contains an interactive poverty map where users can investigate the effect of poverty in any state in the country. Currently, Iowa ranks as number 16 in the country with an overall poverty rate of 12.2% and a deep poverty rate of 5.5%. In addition, Iowa faces a child poverty rate of 14.8%. Illinois is ranked as number 23 in the country with an overall poverty rate of 13.6%, a deep poverty rate of 6.2%, and a child poverty rate of 19.1%. The website also shows the poverty rate at a county level. Currently, Scott County has a rate of 12.4%, and Rock Island County has a rate of 13.2%.

Learning about poverty’s role in the lives of Americans, especially those in your community, is a big step in combatting this desolate reality. Still, we must also look for ways to contribute to various organizations that are advocating for and extending help to those in need.

For more information on poverty, visit these websites: