2019 Poverty Data Show Pre-Pandemic Cracks in Foundation; 2020 Updates Show Urgent Need for Congressional Action

Washington, DC, September 15, 2020—The Census Bureau released reports today containing 2019 national data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States. The data provide a snapshot of where the country was before the coronavirus pandemic and recession. However, the snapshot is blurry and likely appears more positive than was really the case because of the unprecedented difficulty in reaching families this past spring, according to the Bureau. Nonetheless, while the nation faces a far grimmer economic context in 2020 than a year ago, the data provide key lessons for an agenda to address poverty and racial inequities.

“The 2019 poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau expose significant pre-pandemic cracks in the economic foundation that supports people with low incomes—particularly children, young people, communities of color, and immigrants. Needless to say, the recession that began six months ago is causing those cracks to spread, further weakening the economic security of millions,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). 

“If the 2019 data represent our economy at its best, they show that vast inequities in the economic context persisted even after a long economic expansion, providing key lessons to inform the urgent agenda ahead.  Congress must act immediately to address devastating hardship for families today and lay the groundwork for a fuller response to poverty in the future,” said Golden.

Among the Census report’s key findings for 2019:
Large shares of children and young adults experienced poverty at critical developmental moments. In 2019, even while the U.S. economy was considered strong by many economic measures, 14.4 percent of children and 13.3 percent of young adults lived in households with incomes below the poverty threshold, creating severe consequences for their long-term economic, physical, and mental well-being. 

The devastating effects of systemic racism were evident long before the pandemic. Racist policies were damaging the life prospects of Black people and other communities of color well before the pandemic and the summer’s uprisings that exposed racial injustice more clearly to many Americans. For example: in 2019, 26.4 percent of Black children and 20.9 percent of Latinx children were living in poverty compared to just 8.3 percent of white children. 

Work is no guarantee against poverty. Prior to this year’s recession, far too many people lived in poverty despite high levels of work in their families. Low wages, inadequate hours, involuntary part-time work, and underemployment—more prevalent in the jobs held by people living in or near poverty—mean that work does not pay a family-sustaining wage for millions of households. 

Large public investments have reduced poverty and harm. In 2019, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) lifted 4 million children out of poverty, and refundable tax credits did the same for nearly 1 million children—demonstrating that when the nation chooses to invest in anti-poverty programs, the investments pay off for families. 

Poverty in 2020:  A Dire Picture
In a brief out today about the poverty data, CLASP calls on Congress to act immediately to pass a COVID-19 relief package that addresses the urgent health and economic security of people with low incomes, communities of color, and immigrant communities. Individuals, families, and communities need immediate income and nutrition supports, comprehensive and inclusive paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for all workers, a robust investment in child care to stem the collapse of this essential industry, and fiscal relief for state and local governments to maintain core services critical for public health and economic recovery.

# # # #

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions for people with low incomes. CLASP’s solutions directly address the barriers people face because of their race, ethnicity, and immigration status.