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'One Bad Bill': One in Three Americans Are Poor or Near-Poor

The people teetering on the brink aren't living in the projects—they're married, own homes, and have health insurance.

We tend to separate the 99 percent into "poor," "working class," and "middle class." But those categories may be becoming obsolete. According to new numbers crunched by the Census Bureau and The New York Times, many of us—17 percent, according to the Times' measure—are one paycheck away from economic disaster, making one in three Americans either poor or near-poor. The people teetering on the brink aren't usually living in the projects. About half of them own homes, live with their spouses, and have health insurance. They "look more like The Brady Bunch than The Wire." In other words, there's not much of a line between middle-class normalcy and poverty anymore, even if the cultural separation is alive and well.

This dynamic makes it easier for us to downplay just how much the recession has taken a toll on our livelihood. During the Great Depression, poverty was obvious—people were starving, homeless, outwardly desperate. Nowadays, poverty creeps in the form of accumulating bills, student loans, and mortgages' steep interest rates. We can enjoy material comforts and project an everyday sense of stability while living in our own personal financial hell.

Thankfully, the public has been paying more attention to the problem of income inequality in recent months. But this study takes that awareness a step further, comparing stagnating incomes to the rising cost of living. Little by little, we're becoming aware that poverty is wider-spread than we thought—and that virtually none of us are immune.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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