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Demography. 2003 Aug;40(3):499-519.

Why poverty remains high: the role of income growth, economic inequality, and changes in family structure, 1949-1999.

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  • 1HHES Division, Building 3, Room 1472, Mail Stop 8500, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC 20233-8500, USA. jiceland@census.gov


After dramatic declines in poverty from 1950 to the early 1970s in the United States, progress stalled. This article examines the association between trends in poverty and income growth, economic inequality, and changes in family structure using three measures of poverty: an absolute measure, a relative measure, and a quasi-relative one. I found that income growth explains most of the trend in absolute poverty, while inequality generally plays the most significant role in explaining trends in relative poverty. Rising inequality in the 1970s and 1980s was especially important in explaining increases in poverty among Hispanics, whereas changes in family structure played a significant role for children and African Americans through 1990. Notably, changes in family structure no longer had a significant association with trends in poverty for any group in the 1990s.

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