Poverty in the United States has increased fastest among non-Latino whites in recent years, according to a study released Thursday.
The study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, said 17.7 million non-Latino whites in 1991 had incomes below the government's official poverty line, compared to 10.2 million blacks and 6.3 million people of Latino origin. In 1991, the poverty line for a family of four was $13,924 in income.
"Poverty debates in this country frequently become ensnared in controversies about race and ethnicity. But poverty is not confined to minorities," said Isaac Shapiro, the study's principal author.
Even in metropolitan areas, the report said, non-Latino whites are the largest single bloc of poor, 43%. In rural areas, seven of every 10 poor people are non-Latino whites.
Shapiro noted that even though the absolute number of poor non-Latino whites is far larger than either blacks or Latinos, the proportion of non-Latino whites who are poor is 9.4%, still only about a third the proportion among blacks and Latinos.
The study found that in 33 states, non-Latino whites constituted an absolute majority of the poor.
In seven other states non-Latino whites were the single largest group of poor, but not a majority.
Blacks were the largest group of poor in five Southern states and Maryland. In Maryland, blacks were 49% of the poor, non-Latino whites 44% and others 6%.
Latinos were the single largest group of poor in California, New Mexico and Texas. In Hawaii, the majority of the poor were of Asian and Pacific Island descent.
Shapiro said a widely cited poverty report called the Luxembourg study, involving Western European nations, Canada and Australia, found that in 1986 the poverty rate among U.S. non-Latino whites was twice as high as the average poverty rate in the other countries for the entire population.
At that time, the non-Latino white poverty rate in the United States was 9.1%. Poverty rates for all people in the other countries averaged 4.8%, Shapiro said. In none of the other countries was the total national figure higher than 7%, the rate for Canada.
The budget center said that in recent decades, the factors that have long caused very high poverty among minorities also have increasingly affected non-Latino whites, usually considered the group most insulated from unfavorable economic trends. "These factors include deteriorating wages, an increase in female-headed families, and a decline in the effectiveness of government programs in lifting people from poverty."
Over the last 20 years, wages in the United States after accounting for inflation have been flat or lagging, the center said, and in 1973, a fifth of white workers "were paid an hourly wage too low to lift a family of four to the poverty line with full-time work." By 1991 "nearly three in 10 were paid this little."
Shapiro said that from 1989 to 1991, non-Latino white unemployment rates increased somewhat faster than minority unemployment rates, leading to faster poverty growth among such whites.