For Immediate Release: September 13, 2011

How Many More Have to Fall into Poverty Before We Say Enough?

Following is a statement by Alan W. Houseman, executive director of CLASP, the Center for Law and Social Policy, regarding the annual data on poverty, income and health insurance coverage released by the Census Bureau today.

"'How many more have to fall into poverty before we say enough?' That should be the question every American asks the nation's policymakers as they begin debating President Obama's jobs package and how to cut more than a trillion dollars from the nation's deficit over the next decade. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released data revealing we not only have a jobs crisis, we have a poverty crisis. A record 46.2 million live in poverty, defined by Census as less than $22,113 annually for a family of four. Deep poverty is worsening as well. The number of people living in households at less than 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold (about $11,056 a year or less for a family of four) increased to 20.5 million or 6.7 percent of the population. Children are particularly vulnerable, with 22 percent of all children living in poverty, up from 20.7 percent, and one in four children (25.9 percent) 5 and under poor.  

"Although the increase in poverty is not unexpected, we cannot dismiss it as merely a byproduct of the recent economic recession and corresponding net job loss. The truth is that for the last decade, poverty has continually increased. When the stock market was rallying and unemployment was relatively low, families were falling into poverty. The federal poverty rate in 2000 was 11.3 percent. It's now 15.1 percent, the highest level since 1993. Poverty is increasing, wages are stagnating, median incomes are falling, and economic inequality is rising. A broader look at poverty trends reveals we are going backward, and in recent years even when the country was on firmer economic footing, prosperity was not shared.

"To begin reversing this trend, we have to put Americans back to work. But to ensure long-term shared prosperity, we need an economy in which everyone can participate. Our nation's policymakers should acknowledge that increasing poverty is a national crisis instead of allowing it to be a moment in the 24-hour news cycle. And our lawmakers should address it with the same level of urgency, time and resources that they devoted to the extended debate over the debt ceiling.

"Millions of families face immediate hardship, and programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families have helped alleviate families' struggles. Unemployment insurance also has helped millions of workers and their families make ends meet, and tax credits help millions of low-income working families. These programs must be strengthened and not sacrificed in a blind frenzy of budget cuts.  We also must commit to investing in early education, schools, job training and other programs that promote opportunity and equip people with the tools to move out of poverty."

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