Think you’ll never need a handout? Research shows you might

BY News Desk  November 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM EDT

Creative Commons photo via Flickr user Jlhopgood

A mother of three with a recently laid-off husband, 25 year-old New Yorker Shenita Simon works full time as a fast food supervisor to support her family.

She makes $8 an hour managing workers at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken. To supplement her below-poverty line income, her family relies on programs like the federally funded Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. Monday we reported that 52 percent of adult fast-food workers like Simon use public assistance, such as food stamps, Medicaid or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Turns out Simon is nowhere near alone. Nearly half of Americans will use a safety net program at some point in their lives, according to new research by Washington University in St. Louis professor Mark Rank.
In a sneak-peak given to The Atlantic Tuesday, Rank looked at longitudinal surveys to determine when Americans are most likely to suffer from poverty and how long they might be in it. The result: more than a third will live under the poverty line for at least a year and just over 1 in 10 will be impoverished for five years or more.

The research showed that when in need, Americans will take a handout. Roughly 45 percent of us will use some sort of safety-net program by the time we turn 60. These include food stamps, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Head Start, assistance for home energy costs and free or reduced-priced meals at school.



Data as reported in [The Atlantic](http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/a-shockingly-high-number-of-americans-experience-poverty/281172/). Percent of Americans who have used a means-tested safety net program by age. Based on Panel Study of Income Dynamics data from 1968 to 2009. Mark Rank, Thomas Hirschl and Kirk Foster, “Chasing the American Dream,” forthcoming.

However, Rank also found that it is generally temporary. Once the help has done its job, most are able to get to a point where they can get along without it.

Rank explained the findings, in part, in an opinion piece for the New York Times over the weekend, noting that “the United States is one of the few developed nations that does not provide universal health care, affordable child care, or reasonably priced low-income housing. As a result, our poverty rate is approximately twice the European average.”

“Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans. For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.

But while poverty strikes a majority of the population, the average time most people spend in poverty is relatively short. The standard image of the poor has been that of an entrenched underclass, impoverished for years at a time. While this captures a small and important slice of poverty, it is also a highly misleading picture of its more widespread and dynamic nature.”


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