In wealthy nations like the United States, it may be easy for some to forget that abject poverty exists. But it does, and it's not going anywhere. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 37 million Americans living in poverty in 2004, up from 35.9 million in 2003.
In mid-September*, weeks after Hurricane Katrina's winds and waters clearly exposed the poverty in New Orleans, Gallup asked Americans whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the work the government is doing on the issue of poverty. Three in four Americans say they are dissatisfied, about the same as when the question was last posed in early September 2001. In both instances, the government's rating on poverty was among the worst of more than 15 items tested.
At a time when all questions regarding government performance are highly polarized between Republican and Democratic adherents, perceptions of the struggle against poverty are no different. Ninety percent of Democrats are dissatisfied with the government's efforts to curb poverty, but even among Republicans, 55% say they are dissatisfied.
Money for Poverty
A separate survey, conducted in early September**, clearly shows a majority (67%) believes the federal government is spending too little to address the issue of poverty in this country. Twenty-two percent of Americans say the amount of spending is about right, and only 9% say too much is being spent.
A racial gap is evident, even though both most blacks and whites agree that the government is spending too little. Eighty-five percent of blacks say this, as do 64% of whites.
Again, the political divide is apparent. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats say the government is spending too little, while 41% of Republicans say too little is being spent (Republicans are equally as likely to say spending is about right). No more than one in seven identifying with any political party say the government is spending too much.
With personal saving rates currently in negative territory, and low-skill jobs particularly vulnerable thanks to the rise of cheap labor overseas, the need for a reliable safety net could be particularly strong over the next few years in order to keep more Americans from sinking below the poverty line. But between tax cuts and the war in Iraq, that net is looking a little frayed. So with Americans calling for the federal government to step up spending to combat poverty -- will the government change its priorities?
*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 921 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 12-15, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
**Results are based on telephone interviews with 262 blacks, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 8-11, 2005, some of which were drawn from Gallup's Sept. 8-11 national sample and some of which were drawn from a special black oversample. The combined sample of blacks is weighted to be representative of U.S. blacks. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.
Results for the sample of 848 non-Hispanic whites, aged 18 and older, are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 8-11, 2005, drawn from the national sample poll. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
The poll did not dial into some of the areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that were declared federal disaster areas following Hurricane Katrina. This amounts to about 0.75% of the U.S. population.