Friday, May 10, 2019


What does poverty have to do with health?

People with lower incomes have a shorter life expectancy than people with higher incomes. The gap in life expectancy between the richest 1% and poorest 1% of people living in the US is 15 years for men and 10 years for women.

People living in poverty experience higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions than people with higher incomes, and face more mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders.

People living in poverty are more likely to live in overcrowded, unsafe living conditions, or experience homelessness. Overcrowded housing and high rent burdens are associated with higher rates of emergency department visits for asthma, high blood pressure, and mental health issues, and can interfere with children’s educational outcomes.

Who lives in poverty in the US? As of 2017, 14.6% of people in the US live below the federal poverty line. That includes over 20% of all children in the US—more than 15 million kids. Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos experience disproportionately high rates of poverty. Women and people with disabilities are also overrepresented among those who currently ‘count’ as poor.

In 2008, the United Way developed a tool to help policymakers and the public understand just how many families are financially insecure but do not fall below the official federal poverty level. The tool, ALICE, which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” looks at the total cost of five household essentials—housing, child care, food, transportation, and healthcare—based on county-level cost of living, and also takes into account different family structures. The ALICE “threshold” more accurately calculates a household’s survival budget, helping communities develop a more complete picture of economic hardship than traditional poverty measures, and is now being used in over 400 communities across 16 states.

Many communities are using the ALICE Index data to make the case that traditional measures to calculate poverty are seriously undercounting the number of people who are struggling to get by and often are not eligible to access services that would help meet their basic needs.

Learn more about the ALICE Index here.

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