|Paying the Bills, or Not|
In 1996, forty-nine million Americans -- about one person in five -- lived in a household that suffered at least one difficulty in meeting a basic need, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Basic needs include things like eating, going to the doctor or dentist, or paying the rent.
How did we do? Between October 1995 and January 1996:
- 9.9 percent of the total population was unable to pay at least one bill for electricity, gas or heating oil.
- 7.0 percent were unable to see a dentist when needed.
- 6.8 percent were unable to pay a full month's rent or mortgage.
- 5.7 percent were unable to see a doctor when needed.
- 3.7 percent had their telephone service disconnected for failure to pay.
- 1.9 percent had their electricity, gas or heating oil service disconnected.
- 0.4 percent were evicted for failure to pay,
In addition, 54 percent of those who had difficulties reported they experienced more than one of the above problems.
The figures above are included as part of the report America at the Close of the 20th Century: The Population Profile of the United States - 1999, published in March 2001 by the US Census Bureau.
Meeting basic needs was a problem for 38 percent of people who lived in the 20 percent of households with lowest incomes. One in five people from these low-income households had difficulty with more than one basic need.
Census Bureau researchers found that American families developed "survival tactics" for dealing with limited budgets. Most often reported were cutting back on food in order to afford Christmas presents and not paying one bill in order to pay another. [See: Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work, by Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997.]
According to the report, blacks and Hispanics were more likely than White non-Hispanics to experience difficulties paying for necessities, as were unemployed persons and disabled workers. Renters faced problems more often than homeowners. People living in a household maintained by a woman were significantly more likely than people living in a household maintained by a man to have problems meeting basic needs.
Most persons reporting food shortfalls said the shortages lasted over one week. They also reported needing an average of $100 in additional monthly income in order to balance their food budgets.
In 1966, however, 13.7 percent of the nation's population fell below the poverty threshold of $16,036 in annual income for a family of four, and the median family income was $35,492. By 1999, the poverty rate had dropped to 11.8 percent and median household income had increased to $40,816. [Source: U.S. Census Bureau - Poverty Data]
Does this mean it has gotten easier to pay the bills? Economic data from Census 2000, is not scheduled for publication until March 2002. Until then, what do you say? Has it become easier to make ends meet since 1966? Discuss it here.