Inequality, Poverty, and Discrimination

3. The Economics of Poverty


  1. Distinguish between relative and absolute measures of poverty and discuss the uses and merits of each.
  2. Describe the demographics of poverty in the United States.
  3. Describe the forms of welfare programs in the United States and the reform of welfare in the mid-1990s.
  4. Discuss the factors that have been looked at to explain the persistence of poverty in the United States.

Poverty in the United States is something of a paradox. Per capita incomes in this country are among the highest on earth. Yet, the United States has a greater percentage of its population below the official poverty line than in the other industrialized nations. How can a nation that is so rich have so many people who are poor?

There is no single answer to the question of why so many people are poor. But we shall see that there are economic factors at work that help to explain poverty. We shall also examine the nature of the government's response to poverty and the impact that response has. First, however, we shall examine the definition of poverty and look at some characteristics of the poor in the United States.