More Seniors Facing Hunger Nationwide and in DC

March 17, 2014

Somewhat belatedly, I’ve come upon the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and its latest annual report on (what else?) hunger among seniors in the U.S.

The report encompasses all seniors facing what NFESH calls the “threat of hunger,” i.e., people 60 and over who are, at best, “marginally food secure.” These are seniors who answered in the affirmative to at least one of the survey questions the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses to measure food security or lack thereof.

In 2011, there were 8.8 million seniors who did — 15.2% of the age group.

But 6.7 million of them — 11.6% of the age group — weren’t just teetering on the brink of food insecurity. They were either what NFESH terms at “risk of hunger” or “facing hunger,” i.e., sometimes didn’t have enough to eat.

The percents of seniors in these two categories were somewhat lower than what USDA reported for the U.S. population as a whole and also lower than what it reported for adults.

But while USDA’s results were statistically the same as for 2010, the percent of seniors facing hunger rose by more than 15% — to about 1.9 million.

Over the longer haul, both the risk of hunger and hunger itself have trended upward for seniors. Since 2007, when the recession set in, the number of seniors at risk of hunger increased by 49% and the number facing hunger by 48%.

Increases since 2001 were 109% and 200% respectively. The increase for the broader threat of hunger category was lower. So what we seem to be seeing is a worsening hunger situation that can’t be attributed to the economic misfortunes of the recession alone.

Both risk of and actual hunger can be attributed largely to lack of income, of course. Nearly 73% of seniors in these two categories lived below the poverty line. And of these, nearly 41% faced hunger.

As with the poverty rate itself, rates of hunger risk and actual hunger were markedly higher for blacks and Hispanics than for non-Hispanic whites.

For black seniors, the risk of hunger rate was 17.2% and the actual hunger rate 6.8%, as compared to 7.5% and 2.9% for non-Hispanic white seniors. Rates for Hispanic seniors were highest — 18.2% and just under 7%.

Rates were also very high for seniors with disabilities. About 26% were at risk of hunger, and more than 11.5% faced hunger. These figures are, in a general way, consistent with USDA’s findings on food insecurity in households with a working-age disabled member.

They’re also consistent with the extraordinarily high poverty rates consistently reported for people with disabilities in the same 18-64 age range — 27.6% in 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure. This is nearly twice as high as the rate for their counterparts without disabilities.

The NFESH hunger rates also, in a general way, correspond to poverty rates geographically. Virtually all the states with the highest hunger risk and actual hunger rates are in the South and Southwest.

The hunger rates don’t altogether track poverty rates, however. For example, the senior poverty rate in the District of Columbia was higher than in all but one state during the 2009-11 period — 23.2%, according to SPM.

Yet both the District’s risk of hunger and actual hunger rates were lower than those of all but nine states — 6.2% and 1.8% respectively.

No cause for celebration here, especially when the hunger rate is notably higher than in 2010. But the figures do suggest that efforts to enroll eligible seniors in SNAP (the food stamp program) and a robust network of emergency food programs make a difference.

They’re also a red flag, as are the nationwide figures. Last November, all SNAP recipients lost a portion of their benefits. The maximum for seniors living alone, as most in the NFESH hunger category seem to be, is now $11 a month less than it was before, leaving them with about $2.07 per meal.

Some SNAP recipients — seniors as well as others — will soon take a second hit because the new Farm Bill restricts the so-called “heat and eat” option, which the District and 15 states have used to boost the value of SNAP benefits, mainly for households whose utility costs are covered in their rent.

Six states have decided to protect their residents from the latest cut by increasing the heating assistance they provide to the $20 million the Farm Bill sets.

Seems to me that the District should do the same. Back-of-the-envelope calculation, based on the latest SNAP household figure, suggests this would cost a bit over $1.6 million a year — hardly a budget-breaker for a city that’s looking forward to more than $6.3 billion in revenues this fiscal year and nearly $6.7 billion next FY.

What NFESH reports for seniors is true for people of all ages. Food insecurity has a wide range of adverse health impacts. Bad for kids in other ways too.

Restoring SNAP benefits would more than pay off in healthcare and other savings, revenues generated by increased local spending and greater well-being for a whole lot of vulnerable people.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, Stateline reported that seven states have said they will block the cuts that would otherwise result from the new “heat and eat” threshold. It says the District will as well. Responding to a survey, some unidentified source said D.C. would “find a solution,” without specifying where the money would come from.

The estimated cost is lower than what I calculated — less than $1.4 million, including what the District has been spending on “utility aid.”

DC Poverty Rate Ticks Down (Maybe)

September 19, 2013

Hard on the Census Bureau’s Income, Poverty and Health Insurance report come results from the American Community Survey. And, as the headline indicates, the overall D.C. poverty rate seemingly dropped — but barely. So little, in fact, that the percent difference from 2011 is within the margin of error.*

More detail on that, plus some other gleanings from the survey.

Poverty Rates a Mixed Story

The poverty rate in the District apparently declined from 18.7% in 2011 to 18.2% in 2012. This left about 108,860 residents below the very low poverty thresholds — just $23,283 for a two-parent, two-child family. And, as I noted, the margin of error — 1.3% — casts doubt on real improvement.

Assuming a real drop, the poverty rate was still 1.8% higher than in 2007, just before the recession set in. It was also 3.2% higher than the national rate.**

The extreme poverty rate, i.e., the percent of residents living below 50% of the applicable threshold, effectively flat-lined at 10.4%. In other words, more than 62, 200 residents were devastatingly poor, especially when we consider the high costs of living in D.C.

As in the past, the child poverty rate was much higher than the overall rate. It was 26.5% last year. So nearly 28,590 D.C. children were officially poor. Well over half of them — 15.8% — lived in extreme poverty.

Both the plain vanilla and the extreme poverty rates for children were lower than in 2011 — the former by 3.8%. But they were both higher than in 2007, when the child poverty rate was 22.7% and the extreme poverty rate for children 12%.

They were also both higher than the national rates. These, as I earlier reported, were 21.8% and 9.7%.

Race/Ethnicity Gaps Still Very Large

Well, let’s just say One City we ain’t — not, at any rate, from the story the ACS figures tell. For example:

  • The black poverty rate was nearly three times the rate for non-Hispanic whites — 25.7%, as compared to 7.4%.
  • For blacks, the extreme poverty rate was 14.5%, while for non-Hispanic whites only 5.2%.
  • For Hispanics, the poverty rate was 22.1% and the extreme poverty rate 10.2%.

We see similar disparities in median household income.

  • The median income for non-Hispanic white households was a very comfortable $110,619.
  • For black households, the median income was barely more than a third of that — $39,139.
  • Hispanic households did better, on average, with a median income of $51,460.

The white, non-Hispanic household median was notably higher here than the nationwide, by $53,610. The medians for black and Hispanic households were also higher, though by much smaller amounts.

Some Clues to the Poverty Rates

Needless to say (I hope), unemployment and under-employment go far to explaining the persistently high poverty rates in the District.

In 2012, nearly half (48.1%) of poor residents between the ages of 16 and 64 didn’t work at all. An additional 25% worked less than full-time or intermittently.

But that leaves about 8,618 working-age residents who were employed full-time, year round and still not earning enough to lift them out of poverty — or at least, not them and dependent family members.

It’s a fair guess that these are mostly residents who don’t have the formal education credentials that living wage jobs here, as elsewhere, increasingly demand. This is probably also the case for some of the part-time and some-time employed.

What we do know is that the poverty rate for adults 25 years and older who had just a high school diploma or the equivalent was 22.8% last year — and for those with less, 34.5%.

By contrast, the poverty rate for those with at least a four-year college degree was just 5.1%.

What Could Narrow The Gaps?

Well, we won’t solve the unemployment problem overnight.

Even if Congress restored the federal jobs lost to sequestration (highly improbable), the local near-term unemployment rate would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 8%, judging from Gray administration estimates.

And it would probably be considerably higher for the least educated residents, if the trends the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported for 2012 continue.

Getting more residents qualified for high-skill jobs would surely help. But we’d still have a very large low-wage sector — all those hotels, restaurants and other retail businesses.

The brouhaha over the Large Retailers Accountability Act, a.k.a the Walmart bill, has spun off into what seems to be serious consideration of raising the District’s minimum wage — and its tip credit wage too perhaps.

A full-time, year round minimum wage worker currently can’t earn enough to lift a three-person family over the poverty threshold — even if s/he never takes even a few hours of unpaid time off because of illness.

So a reasonably robust, comprehensive increase would be a step in the right direction. Granting tipped workers a right to some paid leave would help too.

Far from a total answer, but things the DC Council could do right now.

* Because the survey sample size for the District is relatively small, the margins of error, i.e., the amounts the reported percents could be too high or too low, are sometimes more than 1%. In the interests of simplicity, I’m reporting the percents as given.

** As the Census Bureau advises, I’m using the results of the Current Population Survey for the national figures. The national ACS figures are somewhat different.

Offical U.S. Poverty Stays Flat at 15%

September 17, 2013

I was all set to write about how the official U.S. poverty rate dipped down, as experts had predicted. But no. The Census Bureau reported this morning that the 2012 rate was statistically the same as in 2011 — 15%.

The economy has supposedly been in a recovery mode since June 2009, but the poverty rate hasn’t budged for three years now. It’s still 2.5% higher than in 2007, just before the recession set in — and in fact, a bit higher than the year the recession officially ended.

As I and many others have often cautioned, the official rate is based on an over-simple, outdated measure that understates the number of people who barely — if at all — have enough to live on.

It also, as some examples below indicate, fails to capture the anti-poverty impacts of many of our major safety net programs.

At this point, however, the results it produces are what we’ve got. And the measure is consistent from year to year. So trends are reasonably reliable.

Here then is some of what we learn from the poverty portion of the new report.

The Big Numbers

All told, nearly 46.5 million people were poor enough to fall below the Census Bureau’s very low poverty thresholds — about $18,500 for a parent and two children, for example.

Though the poverty rate is the same, it represents about 249,000 more people than in 2011.

Of these, 6.6% — 20.4 million — were so poor as to fall below 50% of the applicable threshold, i.e., to have lived in what’s commonly referred to as extreme poverty.

Both the rate and the raw number are the same as in 2011 — and not surprisingly, higher than in 2007, when somewhat under 15.6 million people were in extreme poverty.

Race-Ethnicity Gaps

Poverty rates for all major race-ethnicity groups also flat-lined. So the disparities remained very large. For example:

  • The black poverty rate was nearly three times the rate for white, non-Hispanics — 27.2%, as compared to 9.7%.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanics was 25.6%.
  • For Asians, the poverty rate was 11.7%.

The extreme poverty rates mirror these gaps — only 4.3% for white, non-Hispanics and a somewhat higher 5.7% for Asians, but 10.1% for Hispanics and 12.7% for blacks.

Married and Single

The disparity between poverty rates for married couples and families headed by a single person also remained extraordinarily large.

For families headed by a single woman, the rate was nearly five times times the rate for married couples — 30.9%, as compared to 6.3%.

The gap was smaller for families headed by a single man, but 14.6% of them were still officially poor.

Young and Old

As in the past, the child poverty rate, i.e., for people under 18, was considerably higher than the rate for the 65 and older crowd.

  • The child poverty rate was 21.8% — statistically the same as in 2011. Nearly 16.1 million children were officially poor — more than a third of all people in poverty.
  • More than 7.1 million children — 9.7% — lived in extreme poverty.
  • By contrast, the poverty rate for seniors was 9.1% and their extreme poverty rate just 2.7%.

We can chalk the age disparities up largely to the oft-maligned Social Security programs. Without them, the senior poverty rate would have been nearly four times greater.

However, the disparities are larger than they would be if the Census Bureau used a less crude measure, as we see in the results of last year’s Supplemental Poverty Measure.

The Bureau didn’t preview its SPM figures this year, but it did the equivalent with a few examples of what researchers can learn by using its table creator tool.

So we learn that counting the the Earned Income Tax Credit would reduce the number of poor children by 3.1 million. And if SNAP (the food stamp program) benefits were counted, 4 million fewer people would have qualified as poor.

I don’t suppose I need to say that these benefits are squarely in the House Republicans’ bull’s eye.

Policies to ensure that the economic benefits of the recovery reach the very large number of poor and near-poor working families in this country seem a distant dream.

But the new poverty figures ought to be a wake-up call.

New Food Insecurity Figures Bolster Case Against Food Stamp Cuts

September 6, 2013

The just-released U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual food security report is a half-empty, half-full story.

The half-full part is that the food insecurity rate, i.e., the percent of households that didn’t always have enough food to support “an active, healthy life for all members,” wasn’t significantly higher in 2012 than in 2011 — and in fact, has remained basically flat since the recession set in.

This is also true, though only since 2009, for what USDA terms the “very low food security” rate, i.e., the percent of households where at least one member sometimes had to skimp on or skip meals because there wasn’t enough food for everyone.

The half-empty part is that the rate hasn’t dropped. So a very large number of people, including children, were at risk of hunger — or sometimes actually hungry — because they (or their parents) couldn’t afford to buy enough food.

Needless to say (I hope), both the food insecurity rate and the very low food security rate were considerably higher last year than in 2007 — one of many indicators that the Great Recession caused significant, continuing hardships for lower-income Americans.

Almost surely greater hardships than the figures show because, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, the survey USDA uses doesn’t include homeless people.

Here are some of the top-line figures, a handful of breakouts and a few remarks on policy implications.

The Big Picture

  • 17.6 million U.S. households (14.5%) were food insecure in 2012.
  • Of these, more than 6.9 million (5.7%) had very low food insecurity.
  • Well over 48.9 million people were food insecure and about 17.2 million of them sometimes without enough to eat.
  • About 8.3 million children (11.3%) lived in households where they and/or other children were food insecure.
  • And though adults generally protect children from hunger, 977,000 children and/or their siblings didn’t always get enough to eat.

Demographic Disparities

Not surprisingly, food insecurity rates mirror disparate poverty and unemployment rates. Thus, for example:

  • The food insecurity rate for black households was more than double the rate for white, non-Hispanic households — 24.6%, as compared to 11.2%.
  • The food insecurity rate for Hispanic households was nearly as high as the rate for black households — 23.3%.
  • The food insecurity rate for single-mother families was 35.4% and the very low food security rate 12.7% — nearly four times the rate for married-couple families.

Also not surprisingly, state food insecurity rates varied markedly — from 20.9% in Mississippi to 8.7% in North Dakota, which weathered the recession remarkably well.

The food insecurity rate for the District of Columbia was 12% and the very low food security rate 4.5%. As with the state rates, these are two-year averages to compensate for the relatively small survey sample sizes.

Worse to Come?

Half the households with incomes below 130% of the federal poverty line — the standard gross income cut-off for SNAP (food stamp) eligibility — received SNAP benefits all year and were nevertheless food insecure.

Confirmation, were any needed, that SNAP benefits are, for many families, too low now.

Yet, unless Congress does something unexpected, all SNAP households will lose a portion of their benefits in November. They’ll have, on average, less than $1.40 per person per meal — hardly enough for “a healthy, active life.”

Meanwhile, the House Republican leadership seems ready to introduce the missing nutrition part of the Farm Bill it passed in July.

A briefing paper Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently circulated indicates that, as expected, the proposal will cut SNAP by $40 billion or more over the next 10 years.

At least four million and perhaps as many as six million low-income people would lose their benefits, according to CBPP estimates.

At the same time, about 210,000 children would lose their eligibility for free school meals because it’s tied to their family’s participation in SNAP.

I’d like to hope, but really don’t that the USDA report would give House Republicans pause.

What it could do is drive another nail in the coffin of a split-the-difference compromise between the House and the Senate, which passed a Farm Bill with a much smaller SNAP cut.

Not that any cut is called for, mind you. We’ve already got 12.7 million more food insecure people in America than we had in 2007. And even the lower number speaks ill of a country with as much wealth as ours.

Lifetime Poverty Risk Much Higher for Blacks Than Whites

August 28, 2013

About a month ago, the Associated Press reported survey data indicating that nearly four out of five American adults would experience economic insecurity by the time they turned 60.

Many columnists and talking heads picked up on the story. Unlike most, James Taranto at The Wall Street Journal raised various objections to the economic insecurity measures the AP source used. One (unemployment) I agree with. The others not.

Taranto argues, among other things, that one of the measures — near-poverty — is “arbitrary” because it’s set at 150% of the applicable federal poverty threshold. Half again as high isn’t “near,” he says.

Well, blogger Matt Bruenig responds, what if we just measured the likelihood of at least a year in poverty, as measured by the official thresholds?

He dips into a paper published in 2001 and discovers that more than half (51%) of adults will have experienced a year’s worth of poverty or more during a “lifespan” encompassing ages 25 through 75.

Large differences, as you might expect, when levels of formal education are factored in. But what’s truly striking are the cross-cutting differences.

With or without a high school education or more, rates for women are higher than for men. More striking are the very large differences between blacks and whites of both genders.

By the age of 75, nearly 70% of black men with a high school education or more have spent at least a year in poverty, as compared to 30.7% of white men in the same (perhaps over-broad) category.

For similarly-qualified black women, the rate rises to 77.5% — about 40% higher than the rate for their white counterparts.

For black women with less than a high school education, the chances of not experiencing poverty in adulthood are a mere 1.7%. And about 70% have already lived in poverty by the time they reach 35.

The 75-year-old rate for black men without a high school education is 95.6% — more than 21% higher than for their white counterparts.

We’ve had two recessions since these figures were calculated. So it’s reasonable to assume that the poverty risk rates would be higher if more recent figures were crunched.

Whether the black-white disparities would be smaller is an open question. But they surely wouldn’t have disappeared.

From the early 1960s forward, the black unemployment rate has always been at least twice the rate for whites, writes Algernon Austin at the Economic Policy Institute in an overview of the “unfinished business” from the 1963 March on Washington.

Though the black poverty rate is significantly lower than it was 50 years ago, it’s drifted back up since 2000 and, at last count, stood at 27.6% — nearly three times the rate for whites.

The earnings gaps for those employed are very large too, especially at higher education levels.

For example, full-time white male workers with at least a four-year college degree earn about 18% — roughly $16,950 a year — more than their black counterparts. The race gap for women is smaller, but still close to $5,000 a year.

Professor Mark Rank, who gave the AP its headline figures, apparently chose his economic insecurity indicators to bring more whites into the pool than the Census Bureau’s poverty figures do — and with good intentions.

“Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need,” he says.

Which is tantamount to saying that we, as a society, don’t care all that much about poverty and its root causes so long as we think they’re minority issues.

If true — and I think it is — we’ve not transformed “the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” as Dr. Martin Luther King hoped we would when he spoke to the marchers half a century ago.

No one, I think, would say we’ve made no progress. Whether we’re marching forward in all areas is a whole other matter.

Who would have thought 10 years ago that federal voting rights protections would have been such an urgent item on last Saturday’s march agenda?

New DC Poverty Figures … Surprising and Not

September 20, 2012

Figures the Census Bureau released two weeks ago indicated that the poverty rate in the District of Columbia had gone up — and by a lot.

Looking at the two-year average to compensate for the small sample size, the poverty rate hit 19.7% in 2010-11. This is 4.6% higher than the comparable rate for the U.S. as a whole — and higher than the rates for all but two states.

Now we’ve got results from the much more comprehensive American Community Survey. It uses samples large enough to make one-year figures for states — and even smaller jurisdictions — reasonably accurate. Also figures for specific age and race/ethnicity groups.

And, lo and behold, the overall poverty rate in the District didn’t rise after all. Here’s more detail on that, plus some other notable numbers.

Poverty and Severe Poverty Rates Halt Upward Climbs

The new D.C. poverty rate looks like a decline — down from from 19.2% in 2010 to 18.7% last year.

The Census Bureau, however, says that the change is not statistically significant.* Even a level rate is, of course, better news than what we read earlier.

As with the two-year averages, the rate in the District was higher than the nationwide ACS rate — by 2.8%. Rates in nine states were higher.

Similar news for the severe poverty rate, i.e., the percent of residents who lived below 50% of the applicable poverty threshold (just $23,021 for a family of four).

It dropped a bit — from 10.7% to 10.3%. Doubtful that this change is statistically significant.

Whether or no, it means that more than half of all D.C. residents counted as officially poor — 109,317 — were so very poor as to meet the severe poverty standard.

Unequivocally bad news for the District’s children. The poverty rate for the under-18 population — 30.3% — was virtually the same as in 2010. The new rate is 7.8% higher than the also disturbingly high national rate.

As with the District’s poor population generally, more than half of all poor D.C. children lived in severe poverty last year — 16.5%. That’s nearly 17,285 children in truly desperate circumstances.

Race/Ethnicity Gaps Still Very Large

We’ve got new figures, but no new story for the challenges to Mayor Gray’s One City vision. For example, in 2011:

  • The poverty rate for blacks was more than four times the rate for non-Hispanic whites — 27.8%, as compared to 6.8%.
  • The severe poverty rate for blacks was also much higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites — 14.6%, as compared to 4.8%.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanics was 18.1% and the severe poverty rate 8%.

We see the same disparities in household income.

  • The median income for non-Hispanic white households was a very comfortable $107,679.
  • For black households, the median income was barely more than a third of that — $39,302.
  • Hispanic households did better, on average, with a median income of $59,607, but their median income was somewhat higher in 2010.

More Jobs Would Help, But …

Commenting on the earlier Census figures, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute noted that the jump in the poverty rate reflects mainly “stubbornly high unemployment” for “some groups of residents.”

Well, we had no jump. But the analysis still applies, with some qualifications.

Nearly half — 47.3% — of the District’s poor residents between the ages of 16 and 65 didn’t work at all last year. Another 25.5% worked less than full time and/or year round.

That leaves 27.2% of working-age residents who were employed full time, year round and nevertheless in poverty.

So it’s pretty obvious that more jobs would be helpful. But it’s also obvious that more jobs alone won’t cut it.

Education is commonly touted as the answer to persistently high poverty rates. I, among others, am  inclined to think that’s over-simple, though no doubt part of the answer — certainly here in the District.

According to the ACS, the poverty rate for adults 25 years and older who had just a high school diploma or the equivalent was 22.8% last year — and for those with less, a whopping 35.6%.

The poverty rate for those with at least a bachelor’s degree was just 4.2%. This is lower than the rate in 2010, while the rate for those with less than a high school diploma or GED is markedly higher.

We could surely narrow the income gaps in the District with better — and more equal — educational opportunities for residents without the advantages of their well-off peers.

Those opportunities unfortunately may diminish, due to the across-the-board federal spending cuts that Congress isn’t even close to averting.

We know that the District’s public education programs would take a significant hit — estimated, for only three major sources, at more than $9.1 million next year.

The cuts would also throw a lot of people out of work — estimated at upwards of two million nationwide. The District would lose its share — perhaps more than its share.

Lost jobs mean lost tax revenues that could be used to shore up our fraying safety net and for programs that reduce needs for the aid it should provide.

All sad — and wholly avoidable — prospects for our egregiously large poor population.

* As the text indicates, the severe poverty rate change I report here may not be statistically significant either. The Census Bureau’s brief doesn’t cover levels above and below the poverty thresholds, though the ACS tables do. They show error margins, but they’re not multi-year.

Census Poverty Rates Defy Predictions

September 12, 2012

Well, the crystal ball gazers blew it. The Census Bureau just reported that the poverty rate didn’t rise last year. The official 15% rate isn’t statistically different from the 2010 rate, it says.

This is surely good news. It nevertheless means that more than 46.2 million people were so poor as to fall below the Bureau’s very low poverty thresholds.

And well over 20.3 million — 6.6% — were so extremely poor as to fall below 50% of the applicable threshold. This is what’s commonly referred to as severe poverty.

What also hasn’t changed is the distribution of poverty across different age and race/ethnicity groups. For example, in 2011:

  • The child poverty rate was 21.9% — not statistically different from the rate in 2010.
  • The poverty rate for seniors was 8.7% — again, virtually the same as the 2010 rate.
  • The black poverty rate was nearly triple the poverty rate for whites — 27.6%, as compared to 9.8%.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanics was 25.3%.

Poverty rates among family types also replicate a familiar pattern. The percent of married couples who were officially poor was 6.2%, while the rate for single-woman households was five times higher — 31.2%.

Severe poverty rates were, of course, lower. But they mirror the same disparities. For example:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 of America’s children — 9.8% — lived in severe poverty last year.
  • The severe poverty rate for blacks was 12.8% and for Hispanics, 10.5%.
  • By contrast, severe poverty afflicted 4.4% of whites and only 2.3% of seniors of all racial/ethnic groups combined.

What we’re to make of all this I’m really not sure. We’ll undoubtedly have many analyses in days to come.

In the interim, we can ferret out of the Census report a couple of policy-relevant messages, based on examples it provides of what the statistically adept can find out by using its online tool.

One we might guess from the relatively low senior poverty rate. Without Social Security benefits, about five times as many elderly people would have been counted as poor.

This is surely a testimony to one of our oldest anti-poverty programs — and a warning of what could happen if some of the “reforms” that are being widely promoted became law.

An additional 2.3 million people were lifted above the poverty threshold by unemployment insurance benefits.

A more imminent danger here because more than 2 million jobless workers will lose these benefits in January if Congress doesn’t extend the only still operative federally-funded UI program.

Millions more will have, at most, 26 weeks of benefits — this at a time when 40% of those actively looking for work have been unemployed for longer.

So here’s a case where our federal policymakers could keep what are still really depressing poverty numbers from getting worse.

Whether they will or not depends on what voters decide in November.


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