The Persistence of Poverty in the United States.

Author:Pedace, Roberto
Position:Book Review

The Persistence of Poverty in the United States, by Garth L. Mangum, Stephen L. Mangum, and Andrew M. Sum. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2003. Paper, ISBN 0801871301, $19.95. 134 pages.

The design of this book is to provide an overview of poverty and its persistence in the United States. The authors also suggest that it may be used as a companion to Sar A. Levitan's Programs in Aid of the Poor. Although the book is divided into six chapters, there are three major areas addressed. The first three chapters define and describe poverty by age, sex, race, and geographical location while also discussing some of the factors that may be responsible for variations over time. The fourth chapter explores various causes of poverty. And the final two chapters discuss the ramifications of changing the definition of poverty and the subsequent policy implications.

Defining and Describing Poverty

The first three chapters provide a concise but comprehensive exposition of poverty definitions and measurement. The reader is treated to a brief history of the "War on Poverty" and the resulting programs instituted in the 1960s. Here, the authors claim that the original intent of poverty programs was to combine employment and training programs with public assistance, but demographic and behavioral changes in the population caused the public assistance component to grow more rapidly than initially anticipated.

The authors provide an informative description of how the definition of poverty has not been adjusted to reflect the ever-changing expenditure distribution within household budgets. Even under the scope of an absolute measure of poverty, the original definition is outdated. While the poverty definition continues to assume that households spend one-third of their income on food, with prices of other household goods increasing by a larger proportion, expenditure surveys have revealed that food now accounts for only one-seventh of a household budget. The degree or severity of poverty, however, is more appropriately captured by relative measures of poverty.

A striking characteristic of poverty is the demographic and geographic variation it exhibits. The authors clearly show that public policies have been most successful at reducing poverty among the elderly (over sixty-four years of age) but have been deficient at dealing with nonelderly adult poverty. In addition, family composition changes (e.g., the increase in female-headed households) and larger flows of...

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