To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald's remark about the rich, the poor are different from you and me. Writing in the Labor Dept.'s Monthly Labor Review, a team of researchers uses survey data to detail many of the differences.
Although poverty is defined by income, the gap between the poor and others still seems stark. In 1993, the family income of the average poor person was $8,500, roughly a sixth of the average income of other families. Welfare households averaged $12,680.
While home-ownership rates among the poor and welfare recipients of 41% and 25%, respectively, seem high, it's important to note that the numbers are pushed up by high ownership among low-income elderly families. Similarly, the high rate of car ownership reflects the transportation needs of many poor working families.
More than 90% of the poor live in families with color TVs, refrigerators, and stoves, but nearly a quarter lack access to a home phone. Less surprising are poor people's vulnerability to violent crime and reduced access to health care. Some 29% of the poor have no health insurance at all, compared with 13% of the nonpoor. More than 43% of poor mothers get inadequate prenatal care, compared with 16% of nonpoor mothers. Also, the poor suffer far higher infant mortality rates (chart).
Such statistics tell only part of the story. To measure the overall economic pressures felt by the poor, the researchers created an index based on such hardships as being evicted, having gas or electricity turned off, lacking food, living in crowded housing, and having no refrigerator, stove, or phone.
The final tally: In a typical year, some 55% of the poor and 65% of those in welfare families lived in households experiencing at least one such hardship, compared with 13% of the nonpoor. And 12% of poor and 15% of welfare families (but only 1% of the nonpoor) suffered at least three hardships.