Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides (in outdated gendered language) that “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” In 1993, the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights adopted by acclimation the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stating that “poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.” The United States is a signatory of the Universal Declaration and participated in the Vienna conference. Additionally, together with 192 other U.N. member states and 23 international organizations, the U.S. is pledged to help fulfill by 2015 eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, including the halving of extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and providing universal primary education. Yet, according to the September 2011 U.S. Census Report, 46.2 million people in the U.S. (or 15.1% of the U.S. population) lived below the official poverty line in 2010 ($11,344 for individuals under 65; $22,314 for a family of four)—the largest number of U.S. Americans (as distinct from Latin American Americans) living below the official government poverty line in the 52-year history of published U.S. Census poverty figures. In November 2011, the Census Bureau released supplementary poverty figures taking into account rising expenses not included in the official measure (e.g., out-of-pocket medical and child-care costs), increasing the number of U.S. Americans living in poverty by almost three million to 49.1 million people, a full 16 percent of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Report 2010; U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights)

 16-18 — Percent of deaths among black women due to poverty during pregnancy, approximately twice the rate as that for white women―black women being also twice as likely as white women to suffer stillbirth or preterm birth for the same reason, with no sustained decrease in black–white inequalities in age-adjusted mortality or life expectancy at birth at the national level since 1945 (Wiley Online Library 2012; American Progress 2008; Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty 2002)

 27 — Percent of U.S. households that are “asset poor”—families lacking the savings or other assets to afford even three months of basic expenses if regular income were interrupted by a job loss or illness; the number of asset-poor households has increased by 21 percent since 2009 (N.Y. Times 2012; Corporation for Enterprise Development 2012)

30.2 — Percent of U.S. households reporting an adult who did not eat for an entire day because of lack of sufficient money for food (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2011)

 42 — Percent of women obtaining abortions in 2008 who had incomes below the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children), 3/4 of whom cited their inability to afford a child as a reason for having an abortion (Guttmacher Institute 2011)

 51.4 — Percent of the U.S. population living below the poverty line at some point in life before age 65 (Urban Institute 2009)

 62 — Percent of bankruptcies in 2007 involving medical debt, an increasingly frequent problem for those living in U.S. households with annual incomes below $25,000, 16.2 million (26.9%) of whom lacked health insurance in 2010 (U.S. Census Report 2010; American Journal of Medicine 2009)

 208 — Percent increase in likelihood of black children living in a U.S. household with annual income below the poverty line in contrast to white children; similarly, Hispanic children are 182% more likely to grow up in poverty than white children (National Poverty Center 2011; U.S. Census Bureau 2011)

 825 — Difference in dollars-per-student-per-year of revenues in high-poverty district schools compared to low-poverty districts, equivalent to a $330,000 funding gap for elementary schools with 400 students or a $1,237,500 funding gap for high schools with 1500 students (Education Trust 2006)

 5,751 — Yearly cost, in dollars, to provide food and housing for an eight-year-old child, according to USDA estimates; the cost rises to $10,600 when transportation, clothing, health care, and school fees are accounted for, well over half of the yearly income of a family of three living at the poverty line (U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion 2010; Institute for Research on Poverty 2010)

 14,000 — Average dollar cost per year to insure a family of four in the U.S., approximately 2/3 the annual income of a family of four living at the poverty line; 60% of uninsured families have at least one full-time worker (Coverage for All 2012; Kaiser Commission 2011; ABC News 2010)

 23,050 — Poverty threshold dollars-per-year income for a U.S. family of four with two children under 18 in 2012, though researchers suggest that a family of four needs 1.5 to 3.5 times the threshold amount to cover basic day-to-day family needs (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2012; National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University 2009)

 113,000 — Number of students from low-income families who dropped out of high school during 2008–2009, the low-income student dropout rate (7.4%) being more than five times the dropout rate for students from high-income families (1.4%)―a disparity that is similarly found among students who graduate from high school, with only 36% of students from low-income families completing a bachelor’s degree within eight years of high school graduation, compared to 81% of their peers from high-income families (National Center for Education Statistics 2011; Harvard Educational Review 2007)

 2,222,462 — Number of infants participating in the nutritional risk program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) during fiscal year 2008―WIC having served more than half of all infants (52.3%) born in the United States during this period (USDA FNS Program Data 2008; Centers of Disease Control and Prevention 2008)

 2.8 million — Increase in number of “working poor” in the United States from 2007 to 2009, bringing the rate of workers living below the poverty line to 7% (up from 5.1%), the highest rate since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the “working poor” rates in 1987 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011)

 7.9 million — Number of people living in households with incomes below the poverty threshold in rural areas in the U.S., where poverty rates (16.5%) continue to exceed poverty rates in metro areas (14.4%) (U.S. Census 2010)

 48.8 million — Number of U.S. citizens who lived in “food-insecure households” during 2010 (meaning they were hungry or faced food insecurity at some point during the year), 12 million more people than faced hunger in 2007, before the “Great Recession,” and representing 16.1% of the U.S. population (Center for American Progress 2011)

84.5 billion — Difference in dollars between the annual economic cost of hunger (a measure of the impact of hunger on education, health, and productivity) in America ($167.5 billion) and the yearly cost of expanding the current U.S. congressionally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to all food-insecure households ($83 billion) (Center for American Progress 2011)


* Copyright ©2012 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Michael Judd, Chelsea Moore, Denise Patters, and Carolyn Warner, students at the UI College of Law. For additional information please visit the UICHR website.