Skip to navigationSkip to content
Reuters/Robert Galbraith
Could more private development help, not hinder, America’s affordable-housing problem?

A majority of Americans are poor at some point between the ages of 25 and 60

By Max Nisen

Living in poverty is not just something that happens to the other guy in the US. More than 60% of Americans go through serious economic difficulty at some point in their life, according to a new study by Mark Rank at Washington University in St. Louis, highlighted at Wonkblog.

Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the study found that 61% of people will be in the bottom 20% of the US income distribution for at least a year, and 42% in the bottom 10%.

A quarter will spend five or more years in poverty (the bottom 20%), and 11% will spend five years in extreme poverty (bottom 10%).

Here’s the likelihood of spending a year in the bottom fifth of the US income distribution, depending on age:

Being unmarried, less educated, a racial minority, female, or having a work disability all tend to increase the likelihood of extreme poverty.

Luckily, most people manage to escape at some point. While a year or two at the bottom is very common, a person is much less likely to spend five or more consecutive years impoverished:

Another bright spot? A full 70% of Americans also spend at least a year in the top 20% of the distribution. It all suggests that while the American dream is still alive, even the wealthy are likely less secure than they’d like to think.