Low-Income Men at the Margins Caught at the Intersection of Race, Place, and Poverty. The Focus on Disconnected Low-Income Men


We concentrate on the experiences and challenges of men at the margins between the age of 18 and 44, when most American males are actively engaged in productive activities such as working and building skills, forming and strengthening families, and linking to social institutions. Focusing on this age group, we will not cover childhood, except where it helps shape men’s present circumstances. Since men of color often have very divergent outcomes from white men, we spend some time on those disparities.

We define “low-income” broadly. Men are considered low income if they are living in families with income below twice the federal poverty level. For a single adult in 2012, that meant an annual household income of roughly $23,890 or less. For a family of three, it was less than $36,960 on average.2 A second consideration is education level: men with less than a high school degree, a high school degree or GED, or even some college but no degree are included. For ease of exposition, hereafter we refer to this group as “low-income men.” “Disconnected” is similarly defined broadly to include low-income men who are not engaged, or at risk of disengaging, from one or more social systems. This may entail fragile connections to employment, estrangement from family, brushes with the criminal justice system, or physical or mental health problems associated with inadequate access to health services or treatment.

Approximately 26 percent of the adult male population in 2008–10, or 29.3 million men, in the United States lived in households with incomes that were less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Roughly 15 million of these low-income men were of prime working age (18 to 44) and did not have a four-year college degree.3 A disproportionate share were African American and Hispanic. Among all men age 18–44 in the United States, 60 percent were white, 20 percent were Hispanic, and 12 percent were African American. However, among our target demographic, the share of white men dropped to 45 percent, while the Hispanic and African American shares rose to 32 and 16 percent, respectively. Described another way, a higher percentage of all African American and Hispanic men are low income compared with white men. Among prime working-age adult males, 24 percent of white men are low income, compared with 41 percent of African American men and 47 percent of Hispanic men.4

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