"In recent years, however, the faces of the poor who come to the doors of our offices throughout the country have been changing, while their numbers have been steadily growing. Poverty is no longer hidden away in urban pockets or in remote rural areas. In this new economic reality, poverty surrounds us everywhere, from the cities to the suburbs to rural America.
"Some of the many misconceptions about the nature of poverty in the United States reinforce the commonly held view that poverty is due to the failures and deficiencies of individuals, rather than the failures of structures that we put in place through the economic and political choices we make as a nation. While it is true that individual choices and behaviors do influence one's chances of living in poverty, these individual behaviors are frequently outweighed by the structures and policies that shape the opportunities of people who are poor.
"The great American tradition has been that if you work hard you can provide a better life for yourself and your family. This is the bedrock of the 'American Dream.' Unfortunately, too many Americans today are working very hard but still cannot make ends meet.
"More than half of Americans will experience poverty for at least one year.
"What is perhaps most frightening is that poverty is expanding into nearly all segments of society. Mark R. Rank, a professor in the School of Social Work at Washington University and a noted researcher on poverty, has estimated some of the risks of experiencing poverty. He writes:
" 'Beginning at age 20, 31 percent of Americans will have experienced at least one year of poverty by the time they reach age 35, 45 percent will have done so by age 55, and 59 percent will encounter a year or more of poverty by age 75. In addition, 68 percent of Americans will experience a year below 125 percent of the poverty line between the ages of 20 and 75, and 76 percent of Americans will face a year below 150 percent of the poverty line.'
"He concludes from these staggering numbers that 'What these percentages strikingly reveal is that rather than being an event that affects a small minority of the U.S. population, poverty is a mainstream experience that touches a clear majority of Americans at some point during their adult lifetimes.' "