A Few Numbers to Consider
Oct 01, 2010
By Jenice R. Robinson
The mid-term election is just a month away. Lawmakers have recessed, most of them returning home to their districts to campaign for reelection. They will undoubtedly be looking at a lot of numbers. How much money do they have in their war chests for the final campaign push, and what do the polls say about their winning odds, for example.
A few other numbers they should be thinking hard about were released in September. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report stating the recession ended in June 2009. But a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that 70 percent of people say the recession is not over.
Census data released in September explain the disconnect. The gap between rich and poor is the broadest since the bureau began keeping track. Median household income in the United States fell from $51,726 in 2008 to $50,221 in 2009. Yet what's more telling is income distribution. Last year, households earning more than $100,000 per year, or the top 20 percent, received 49.4 percent of all household income. The bottom 20 percent, or those living in poverty and earning less than $20,000, received 3.4 percent. The top earners' share is up from 49 percent in 2008, while the bottom earners' share fell from 3.6 percent.
Georgetown University law professor and poverty scholar Peter Edelman told Washington Post writer Katrina vanden Huevel earlier this week that the number of people living in low-income households ($44,000 per year or less for a family of four, or 200 percent or less than the federal poverty level) reached more than 100 million in 2009. "That's 33 percent of the country," he said. "That's the totality of the problem -- whether you call it poverty or not."
Making ends meet, putting food on the table and clothing their children are the things on most ordinary people's minds these days. And, based on the numbers, a significant percent of the population is having difficulty doing just that.
Yet Thursday, Congress adjourned without passing several measures that could help alleviate hardship.
The TANF Emergency Fund, a federal program created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, expired Thursday because lawmakers failed to act. The program allowed states to expand much-needed services and over its lifetime created subsidized jobs for 250,000 people struggling to find work in the tough economy. Congress also failed to reauthorize the Child Nutrition bill, which would provide more funds for school lunch and higher standards for the food served in schools, because the pay-for in the bill took money away from SNAP (Food Stamps)--the exact money families use to meet their nutritional needs. These are just a couple examples.
In a blog post about the Census numbers, Media Matters, a watchdog group, challenges news organizations to do more than report the numbers but also examine why income inequality is increasing and more and more families are having a tough time making ends meet. "None even attempt to identify government policies that may contribute to the widening gap between rich and poor," Jamison Foser writes.
We agree that sound government policies can help address these atrocious numbers. Lawmakers return to Washington D.C. for a lame duck session after the November election, and the 112th Congress commences in January 2011. Right now, perhaps many of them are focused on numbers related to their election campaigns. When they return from recess, they owe it to the nation to focus on numbers and issues that are critically important to ordinary people.