An Atlas of Poverty in America

Penn State University’s Poverty in America Project studies poverty trends in the United States using census data, a unique index of “economic health” and “economic distress,” and public policy assessments.

Directed by Dr. Amy Glasmeier, the project has published An Atlas of Poverty in America: One Nation Pulling Apart, 1960-2003, available through

A key message of this Atlas is that America’s poor are people who work or who are dependents of people who work and face limited opportunity, often due to living in places that are seriously disadvantaged because of geography or history or both …

We use the terms poverty, being poor, economic insecurity, low-wage work, working poor, and unable to make ends meet to reflect a state or condition of being in which … [people lack] the ability to enjoy life due to lack of access to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, and essential requirements for a successful work life such as a decent education and access to a vehicle.

Glasmeier and the Atlas were recently featured in National Public Radio’s “Hunger in America” series.

[NPR]: Why is there hunger in America?

[Glasmeier]: A big part of food insecurity relates to the uncertainties of daily life. People go hungry because of unexpected events, such as paying for an emergency visit to the hospital, a car repair, or the loss of a job. So you can be just above the poverty line, and any one of those circumstances can push you into poverty.

When a family is living that close to the edge, the bottom line is that cuts will be made in the consumption of food. Food is purchased with cash. If you don’t have a credit card, then you have to pay cash for food. The majority of people don’t have a monthly charge account at the local grocery store.