Forbes Magazine

Despite impressive economic growth, a higher proportion of the U.S. population lives in poverty today than did three decades ago.

Mixed blessing

By Peter Brimelow


The three-decade downtrend in the proportion of the U.S. population that lives in poverty ended abruptly in the late 1960s-ironically, after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared War on Poverty.

Since then-and despite economic growth-the poverty rate has crept up. It's now at 13.7%, up from a low point of 11.1% in 1973 (see chart).

The Bush-Clinton boom did see some improvement in one area that has historically been a focus of concern. The proportion of the U.S. population that consists of blacks in poverty declined, from 3.6% in 1992 to 3.0% in 1996, but that's still about where it was in 1973.

The proportion of poor whites in the population has risen from 6.7% in 1973 to 7.6% in 1996.

So where did the new poor come from?

Two other minority groups, fed by immigration, have contributed to the poverty ranks: Hispanics, with a poverty rate of 29.4%, and, surprisingly, Asians, with 14.5%. (The white poverty rate:11.2%. The black rate: 28.4%.)

Why has immigration-which has in many ways contributed much to American life-increased the poverty rate? Up to about 40% of recent immigrants have had less than high school educations. They-unlike the highly educated immigrants who flock to Silicon Valley-are unlikely to do well in the knowledge economy.

Along with a lot of skills, it seems the U.S. is importing a certain amount of poverty. No blessing is unmixed. | back to top |