Predicting Poverty Risk With New Calculator
Predicting Poverty Risk With New Calculator

Nearly 60 percent of Americans will spend at least one year in poverty between the ages of 20 and 75, according to research by Cornell sociologist Thomas Hirschl and associates.

The federal poverty line for a family of four is about $24,000.

Four of the strongest predictors of economic instability are: education level, marital status, age, and whether you are white or non-white. 

Calculate your poverty risk here.

According to Hirschl’s calculator, the highest indicator of poverty are people who are non-white, unmarried, younger, and have a high school education or less.

We need to go into the discussion with intellectual clarity. We hope the calculator will help … bring about that clarity.
— Thomas Hirschl, sociologist

But even an unmarried, white woman in her late 30s with an education beyond high school has a 32 percent risk of hitting poverty in the next five years, according to the poverty calculator.

“The idea of the poverty calculator is we’re trying to make poverty risk more real, so that people can see where they stand and where people like them stand,” Hirschl said in a press release.

Hirschl hopes the calculator will ignite national discussion about poverty and ways to address it.

“We have a society where, if you fall on hard times, you feel that it’s your fault, that there’s something wrong with you. Among whites that’s especially true,” he said. “There’s very little understanding about social causality and the decisions that we’ve made as a country, particularly since 1970.”

The economic divide has been growing and will continue to spread, he said. The United States is on the verge of being a nation where the majority of citizens will experience poverty as a normal event. People are often a job loss, divorce, or illness away from poverty, the research revealed.

“A lot of the political discussion doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but people are starting to come to terms with issues they haven’t thought about,” Hirschl said. “We need to go into the discussion with intellectual clarity. We hope the calculator will help establish a baseline to bring about that clarity.”

In 2014, the overall poverty rate was 14.8 percent, representing 46.7 million people, or about one in every seven Americans, according to census data. Among industrialized countries, the United States is at the high end of the poverty spectrum.

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