WTF is a Poverty Rate?

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Just a few short months away from another decisive, World-changing election, the Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump finally decided to address the need for African-American voter support. Many, including myself, were offended by his depiction of an impoverished, crime-ridden Hellscape populated by “Black” people in America. He screeched about how 26% of African-Americans are in poverty and 58% of youth are unemployed.

As I stated in a post about three weeks ago, cynics hate to see progress when it comes to poverty rates in America. They use statistics to confuse people into making things seem different than they really are.

First thing to remember about statistical analysis is that the percent of change in a thing is an insufficient stat by itself. If killings in a city went from 1 to 2 over the course of a year, that means they increased by 100% in one year. In the grand scheme of things 2 killings is only a lot in a small town. Think about how many arguments there are everyday over any number of tense subjects. Think about how much alcohol and drugs people consume everyday to where they wouldn’t be in their right mind. Then think about how many guns there are in the U.S. and how people actually die. There are not an unusual amount of bludgeoning, blunt force murders or strangulations. There are an unusual amount of homicides and suicides by gun. In a city like Newark, a record high year was something like 111 in one year. However, there are about 280,000 legal residents of Newark with untold millions of travelers who pass through the city each year. To me, that number is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be.


In my 2013 book of essays, Hip Hop Know What I’m Sayin, I discussed the fallacy of homicide stats by comparing them to suicide stats. In NJ 2012, for instance, there were around 400 homicides (, almost 450 accidental deaths by firearm (444), and almost 700 suicides (683). At the same time there were about 1200 deaths by drug poisoning (1222) most of which were prescription drugs and heroin. My point in a nutshell was that propping up the homicide number which includes all races as the most important stat, versus the other avoidable death numbers that disproportionately represent “White” people, is a tool of mainstream media. It is a tool used to magnify negative opinions of the African-American population, the same way Trump did in his “appeal” to the community.


* Gray area includes Essex County (Newark, E. Orange, Irvington)

Poverty rates are not the same as the percentage of people in poverty. The poverty rate for AA is around 26%. The percent of people who are in poverty in America that are AA is 19%. The stats are mentioned in the same Politifact article that inspired me to write the piece about cynical opinions of poverty three weeks ago. Many people have noted that these numbers on poverty include retired people on fixed incomes, college students who work part-time and high school students who don’t work at all. The poverty rate is based on a household reported income which is only partially representative of the income in many AA households.


If you know like I know, there are many people who live “off the books”. There are many people in ‘the hood’ who have ‘side-hustles’. Everyone knows ‘side-hustle’ money is not reported. Do those poverty rates consider the amount of money circulating in illegal drugs trade? Does it account for money exchanged in dice games, card games and trips to the casino? What about party promoters and strippers; are they reporting income? There are all sorts of intentionally unnamed hustles in the ‘hood’ that account for a good portion of wealth not counted by these governmental poverty rates. I think people in the part of the AA community that looks impoverished (i.e. low income neighborhoods), actually have more unreported wealth than people realize when they say the ghetto is poor.There are a lot of full price Jordan’s, Timberland’s, and True Religions in circulation. Strip clubs in the hood spend a lot of money servicing customers and there doesn’t seem to be much of a shortage on the latest forms of technology either. We must remember the cost of city living by definition is higher than rural or suburban places because of the proximity to convenience and retail business.

In regard to these poverty stats parroted on TV, don’t believe the hype. When you die; you die. That gets counted, but people’s money can be hidden, and therefore people hide it. The bottom line is that you can be fooled by numbers and statistics if you don’t know what they mean. So, be careful out there. One.

Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at

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