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A striking reminder of the link between race and poverty in America

New data from the Census Bureau confirms a key fact about poverty in America: many people duck in and out of it. In 2012, 23.1 percent of all Americans were in poverty for two or more months — what the Census Bureau calls "episodic poverty" — but only 8.4 percent were in poverty for all 12 of those months.

These numbers vary hugely by race. For example, more than one in three Hispanics or blacks spent two or more months below the poverty line in 2012 — but fewer than 1 in 5 whites or Asians did.


The share of whites who spent two or more months in poverty in 2012 is pretty close to the share of blacks who spent the whole year below the threshold. Across the board, the share of whites in poverty is less than half what it is for blacks or Hispanics.

This is just one of countless racial and ethnic divides in the US economy. For example, as Dylan Matthews wrote earlier this month, the median white family has a net worth that's 74 times that of the median Hispanic family. Similarly, white high school dropouts have a higher net worth than black or Latino college graduates.

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