The Poverty Epidemic in America, by the Numbers

America is the richest nation in the world, yet 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line and millions more struggle to get by every month.

The fact that our nation’s leaders allow huge swaths of the country’s population to live in poverty is more than just a gross moral failing. Poverty imposes costs on society in the form of increased crime, broken neighborhoods, and squandered human resources.

Our nation has seen periods in which poverty rates have fallen—when there have been sound policies in place and sufficient political will to combat the problem. But the last six years have seen rises in poverty and inequality.

That’s why the Poverty Task Force of the Center for American Progress will release a report tomorrow detailing the problem and outlining a pragmatic plan to cut poverty in half in the next 10 years.

Here’s a look at poverty in America, by the numbers:

A poverty epidemic

37 million: Number of Americans who live below the official poverty line—12.6 percent of the total population. Millions more struggle to get by.

36.5 million: Population of California, America’s most populous state, according to 2006 U.S. Census Bureau numbers

5 million: Number of Americans who are poor today who weren’t in 2000

8 million: Number of Americans who live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where at least 40 percent of residents are poor

1 in 8: Proportion of Americans who now live in poverty

1 in 3: Proportion of Americans who are considered low-income

25: Percentage of all workers who were in jobs for which year-round full-time work would not pay enough to keep a family of four above the poverty threshold

Poor children have little chance at the American Dream

1 in 5: Proportion of children who are poor, or 17.6 percent

42: Percentage of children born in the bottom income quintile who will remain in that quintile as adults

6: Percentage of children born in the bottom income quintile who will reach the top quintile as adults

1: Percentage of children from low-income families who will reach the top five percent of the income distribution

22: Percentage of children from wealthy families who will reach the top five percent of the income distribution

19: Percentage of children in poverty who lack health insurance, compared to 11.2 percent of children above poverty

$500 billion: Persistent childhood poverty’s estimated cost to the nation each year because of lost adult productivity and wages, increased crime, and higher health expenditures

4: Percentage of the nation’s GDP this represents

1.7 million: Number of poor or near-poor youth ages 16 to 24 who were out of school and out of work in 2005.

Rich country, poor people

$19,971: A family of four that makes below this income is considered poor – far below what most people believe a family needs to survive

12.6: Percentage of all Americans who were poor in 2005 using this income standard

90 million: Number of Americans who had incomes below 200 percent of federal poverty thresholds; an annual income of $40,000 for a family of four

30: Percentage of the total American population this represents, or the combined populations of California, Michigan, New York, and Texas

16 million: Number of Americans living in extreme poverty, meaning their incomes are below half the poverty line: less than $9,903 for a family of four or $5,080 for an individual

24 out of 25: America’s ranking among developed nations when measuring how well the countries do on poverty (what share of a country’s population has income below 50 percent of the nation’s median income). Only Mexico has a higher poverty rate than the United States among rich nations

24 out of 24: America’s ranking in a UNICEF report on child well-being in rich nations, when child poverty is measured in relation to 50 percent of median income

Inequality has reached record highs 

19 percent: Share of the nation’s income held by the richest 1 percent of Americans, a historic high

3.4 percent: Share of the nation’s income held by the poorest 20 percent of Americans

$5.15: The current federal minimum wage, which is at the lowest level in real terms that it’s been in 50 years

30: Percentage of the average wage that the minimum wage is now. The minimum wage used to be 50 percent of the average wage

$8.40: What the federal minimum wage would be if it were restored to 50 percent of the average wage

$145,500: Amount by which the post-tax income of the top 1 percent rose between 2003 and 2004

$200: Amount by which the post-tax income of those in the bottom fifth rose between 2003 and 2004

The epidemic of poverty is spreading in America, and it’s taking its toll on American families. Inequality is also on the rise, meaning that the nation is moving further away from one of its founding principles: equality of opportunity.

The Center for American Progress’ 12-step plan for cutting poverty in half in the next 10 years will be released tomorrow. It will take time and political will to fight poverty, but if we’re going to protect the common good, it’s a battle we can’t afford to lose.