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How many of us are really poor?

Feb 01, 2012 | | Comments Comments Off

My latest MSN column (click HERE to read it) takes a deep dive into recent reports that nearly half of U.S. households are either low income or poor. The Census has been experimenting with new ways to measure poverty, but it’s questionable whether half of us are really struggling.

Still, there’s no question that a lot of people have a hard time making ends meet. Median incomes have dropped, unemployment has soared and tighter credit standards make it harder to get the loans that in the past papered over the fact that so many people’s living standards had dropped.

That’s depressing. But most people have at least some control over their economic fate. There’s a big difference between “broke” and “poor,” as I wrote in a column several years ago:

“Broke” is temporary. It’s running out of money before you run out of month…”Poor” is something else. It’s hunger, and clothes that don’t fit, and homes that are uncomfortable and unsafe. It’s not having enough or even the prospect of having enough.

“Broke” is fairly common. “Poor” is less so…although other Census figures show that nearly one in four households has had a recent spell of poverty. The good news is that entrenched poverty, the kind that lasts for years, is truly uncommon–only about two out of 100 households spent years below the poverty level.

In any case, it’s important to keep the difference between “broke” and “poor” in mind if you’re financially struggling. “Broke” means you can do something about your situation–and I hope you do.

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