ONE OF the biggest myths about the United States is that it’s a mostly “middle class” society, with poverty confined to a minority of the population.
The reality is exactly the opposite: The vast majority of people in the United States will experience poverty and economic insecurity for a significant portion of their lives.
A recent Associated Press feature article—relying on data from an exhaustive survey to be published next year by Oxford University Press—has put this in stark terms: Around four out of every five people in the U.S. will endure unemployment, receive food stamps and other forms of government aid, and/or have an income below 150 percent of the official poverty line for at least one year of their lives before age 60.
That startling statistic shows the truth about a society where there are a lot more have-nots or have-littles than have-enoughs. But there are so many other myths and misconceptions about poverty in America. For example, the AP and Oxford statistics show that while people of color suffer economic difficulties at disproportionately high rates, large numbers of whites fall into the same category. Similarly, more whites benefit from social programs such as welfare and food stamps than any other group.
These facts contradict the racist stereotypes about who is poor or at risk of falling into poverty. And they underline the reality that the vast majority of Americans of all races are in the same boat—they scramble to get by, at best—while only a small minority of people live comfortably throughout their lives, and a tiny few are obscenely rich.