/ Modified jan 21, 2014 4:48 p.m.

UA Sociology School Participates in Tucson Poverty Project

School collaborating with Mayor Rothschild to combat poverty in city; determine current status of residents.

(VIDEO: AZPM)

About a year and a half ago, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild established a commission on poverty to combat it in Tucson. The UA School of Sociology collaborates in this project, and by the end of the spring semester, students hope to help shape a better idea of the real living circumstances in the city.

In 2011, Tucson had the eighth highest poverty rate among mid-size and large metropolitan areas in the country at 18.7 percent. And, since then, the situation has not improved much.

UA sociology graduate and undergraduate students will conduct a set of 250 interviews in the Tucson area to determine the effects of poverty in this new year.

The U.S. has had its official measure of poverty since the 1960s, said Lane Kenworthy, a UA sociology professor. It is an amount of income set by the government, where a family or a household is defined as poor if its income during the course of the year is below that income.

Kenworthy said that according to official measures, about 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. But this rate has changed over the last 50 years.

"In the ‘60s, poverty went down quite dramatically and fell from about 22 percent to close to 11 percent, and then came up a little bit in the early ‘70s," Kenworthy said. "Now, it is a little higher, because we have been through this very bad economic patch, but it is really quite striking that after falling so dramatically for a decade we have made effectively no progress in about 40 years."

There are many factors that add to this stagnation; one of them being wages, he explained.

"If you think of the wage distribution as a ladder, some people (are) at the bottom, some at the top," Kenworthy said. "Those in the middle part of the ladder have experienced no wage increases, once we take inflation into account, since the mid and late ‘70s., and that is a very big part of the reason."

Also, some people are more likely to end up poor than others, he added.

"Half a century ago, a lot of it had to do with race...African Americans and to some extent Hispanic Americans, Latinos tend to have much higher poverty rates than whites," Kenworthy said. "The biggest impact today has to do with the income and other circumstances related to households where people are growing up."

So, if a person grows up in a household with low income - especially one that has parents who are not that well educated - lives in a neighborhood with a lot of crime, and the schools are not as good, that person may be more likely to end up poor than other Americans not in those circumstances, Kenworthy explained.

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