Relative Poverty in the United States

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1420 Words
Date:  2022-10-20

Most societies in the world face many social problems which affect the progress and the well being of the societies. Among other challenges in the United States of America, poverty has affected the majority of citizens and therefore making it hard for them to access most services in the country. The concept of poverty can be understood from two perspectives; absolute and relative poverty. Absolute poverty has an aspect of absolutism in it. It implies a lack of basic means and difficulties in accessing basic social services. This aspect of poverty is evident in many parts of Africa and Asia.On the other hand, relative poverty is used to mean a slightly different concept. Although it is poverty in itself, it refers to a form of poverty as measured within a particular society. This form of poverty is experienced in some parts of the developed countries such as the United States, the UK or Germany. In the United States, the federal government has given an official poverty threshold which. Many people have not managed to meet this threshold and therefore indicating relative poverty as a major social problem. Therefore, relative poverty is a social problem experienced in the United States which has limited most people's access to basic means of life.

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The federal government sets the poverty threshold annually which gives statistics of people living below the poverty line. The federal poverty level (FPL) is used by the federal government as the standard measure to determine households that are categorized as poor, and that qualify for aids like Medicaid ("Federal Poverty Level (FPL) - Glossary," n.d.). The Department of Health and Human Services together with the U.S. Census Bureau annually examines the poverty level by the use of Census data. Therefore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) annually releases the poverty threshold in January of every year. The threshold indicates the minimum income for a family that is necessary for basic needs such as clothing, food, shelter, transportation among others ("Federal Poverty Level (FPL) - Glossary," n.d.). In January 2018, the federal government released new data indicating the poverty level. A household with one member was supposed to raise $12,140 annually ("Poverty Guidelines," 2018). This amount increased with intervals of $16,460 with an increase in the number of persons in the household. For households with eight persons, the threshold was set at $15,180, with an addition of $5,400 with the addition of each person ("Federal Poverty Level (FPL) - Glossary," n.d.). These figures were given as the poverty line for 2018.

The above poverty level was set after the assessment of the 2017 reports on poverty. In 2017, 39.7 million Americans were living below the federal poverty threshold representing 12.3 percent (US Census Bureau, 2018). Despite this being a drop by 0.4 as compared to 2017, it is still an indicator that poverty is still a prevalent issue in most of the citizens. Additionally, the poverty effect affected different groups in different ways indicating social inequality ("Poverty Guidelines," 2018). For example, the statistics indicated that people with at least a bachelors degree's rate of poverty increased by 0.3 as compared to 2016. It is important to note that the data provided in 2016 indicated that while this data indicates that education is not a real solution to the issue of poverty.

Poverty level and its effect in the United States can be analyzed and related to the conflict theory. Karl Marx suggested the theory by looking at society as a state of perpetual conflict due to competing for human beings for resources that are limited (Joas, Knobl, & Skinner, n.d). According to the theory, the powerful people in the society oppress the powerless by any means possible. It suggests that the individuals in any given society strive to maximize their benefits (US Census Bureau, 2018). Also, the theory holds several assumptions; competition, revolution, structural inequality, and war. While not all of these tenets may apply in assessing the case of the United States, some of them are helpful in the examination of poverty in the country (Sanderson, 2007). First, the theory holds that competition is a constant factor in any interaction in a society. This competition is a result of limited resources, both tangible and intangible resources (Joas, Knobl, & Skinner, n.d). Secondly, the theory holds that the result of the existence of competition in an interaction is a revolution. It holds that change is as a result of competition and not an adaptation. The final assumption applicable to poverty in the United States is structural inequality (Sanderson, 2007). The assumption holds that inequalities in power are as a result of social structures that lack equality.

The above tenets are applicable to explaining the aspect of poverty as a social problem in the United States. First, the structural inequalities that exist in the United States are an important indicator of poverty. Women and men experience poverty differently (US Census Bureau, 2018). Statistical data shows that there are relatively more women poor as compared to men. In 2017, the data released indicated that 40.6 million people were living below the poverty threshold (Sanderson, 2007). Among these, 16.3 % of women fell in this category as compared to their male counterparts who were 13.8 % of all men (US Census Bureau, 2018). Despite the population of women being relatively high than that of men in the United States, more women were experiencing poverty as compared to men. This gender gap is an indicator of the structural inequality evident in the country (Hodder, Spiegel, Soto-Torres, & Haley, 2016). Secondly, the gender difference was also evident in the earnings. In the statistical data released in 2017, male workers' real median earnings were $52,146 while that of women was $41,977. Also, people living with disabilities marked the highest rate of poverty in 2016, representing 21.0 percent of people with disability. Further, the real median earnings for male workers increased by 3.0 percent from 2016 while that of women had no significant statistical change as compared to the previous years. This indicator shows structural inequality as one of the causes of poverty in the country.

The federal government can implement some strategies to solve the problem of poverty. First, there is a need to bridge the gap between the earning of both men and women. The data shows as much as poverty is a prevalent social problem in the country, women are more affected than men (Hodder, Spiegel, Soto-Torres, & Haley, 2016). This situation could be due to some reasons. First, most women are left to raise families on their own and hence to have households with higher numbers as compared to men.

Consequently, the government can take some affirmative action's to change the situation (US Census Bureau, 2018). The first area of focus should be on earnings. The earning inequality between men and women should be bridged significantly. Secondly, the government should give more aid to women who fall below the poverty line, especially those raising families on their own. For example, in 2016, the rate of poverty for married couples was at 5.1 percent, while that of single-parent families was at 13.1 percent. It should design a program to provide aid to women raising families on their own and faced with the problem of poverty. These are some of the measures that the federal government can put in place.

In conclusion, poverty is a prevalent social problem in most societies. In the United States, the poverty line is determined annually by the federal government to assist in giving subsidies in Medicaid and other health insurances. However, the levels of poverty in the country show a great aspect of conflict theory. Based on the tenets of the conflict theory, the competition for resources is unfair between men and women. This situation is marked by the earning inequality as indicated by the statistical data collected and published annually. However, the government can take some affirmative action to bridge the gaps existing as a result of these structural inequalities, especially regarding gender.


Federal Poverty Level (FPL) - Glossary. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hodder, S., Spiegel, H., Soto-Torres, L., & Haley, D. F. (2016). Chapter 1 Women and Poverty in the USA. Poverty in the United States, 1-8. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-43833-7_1

Joas, H., Knobl, W., & Skinner, A. (n.d.). Conflict sociology and conflict theory. Social Theory, 174-198. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139878432.009

Poverty Guidelines. (2018, January 12). Retrieved from

Sanderson, S. K. (2007). Conflict Theory. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. doi:10.1002/9781405165518.wbeosc089

US Census Bureau. (2018, September 12). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017. Retrieved from

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Relative Poverty in the United States. (2022, Oct 20). Retrieved from

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