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Birth to Thrive blog: The Great Recession May Create a More Accurate View of Poverty

One of the good things to emerge from The Great Recession is the beginning of a dialogue about what poverty really is.

Today, a new report looks at what it means to be poor in America, and one of its key findings is that poverty is often a fluid state, with families falling below the line some months and staying above it during others.

We use statistics to capture the level of poverty at a moment in time, or to track a trend over time. But as a lived experience - especially one within families - poverty is a dynamic condition that unfolds over a lifetime, with time spent above and below the poverty line. …

Although the official poverty measure identified 32 million poor individuals in 2007, many more - a total of 57 million - were poor for at least two months at some point during that year. -- "Poverty, Hardship and Families: How Many People Are Poor, and What Does Being Poor in America Really Mean?" Council on Contemporary Families. 12/5/11.

So much of our public view of poverty focuses on the entrenched poor, families who struggle for years or decades. But, this analysis suggests the recession knocked so many into economic hardship that we may finally be seeing the condition for what is so often is: life on the edge and the battle to avoid falling over it.

Although most Americans do not share the level of deprivation seen at the bottom of the income scale, the broad blanket of economic anxiety that has spread across the population should spur us to think more holistically about the impact of instability and insecurity on the social, emotional and economic well-being of the population as a whole.

(The report is full of other interesting insights and well worth reading.)

The briefing paper is one of a growing number of reports that look at how the recession affected and is still changing American families. Last week, The Children's Alliance released "The State of Washington's Children," which found families are still struggling in this state's stumbling economy.

The report's findings include:

Nearly 4 in 10 children are living in families that struggle to afford food, health care, housing and child care.
The number of children living in low-income families has risen for two consecutive years.
Between 2007 and 2010, the unemployment rate among parents more than doubled.
Check it out.

Birth to Thrive online is Thrive by Five’s blog covering news, research, ideas and breakthroughs in early learning. Read more of the blog at http://birthtothrive.thrivebyfivewa.org/ 

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