A year ago, the Half in Ten campaign restarted the clock for cutting poverty in half in 10 years.
As I wrote at the time, it also expanded the goal to include growing a more inclusive and economically secure middle class. It set three top priorities for achieving this — each fleshed out in specific strategies.
Half in Ten established indicators to measure progress (or lack thereof) toward both the poverty reduction and new priority goals.
The first set of figures — mostly 2010 data — were the baseline. Now we’ve got a first year’s worth of updates.
So how are we doing? Not easy to answer within the compass of a blog post.
The full report includes 21 indicators — some new and some reflecting fairly old data because sources either haven’t been updated or lag behind even Half in Ten’s base year.
I’d planned to plow through the online set, using last year’s report for baselines.* But I felt I was losing the forest in the trees. Some of the more interesting indicators too.
A different approach, therefore.
No progress here, as you probably already know. Both the official poverty rate and the somewhat higher rate based on the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure were essentially flat for the two-year period.
Meanwhile, income inequality increased. In 2011, the richest 5% of households got 22.3% of all earnings. The bottom two-fifths got just over half as much — 11.6%.
Some of the indicators in this group don’t speak to the goodness of jobs, but rather to the issue of whether people have jobs at all.
Generally progress there — except for people with disabilities, whose employment rate dropped from 28.6% to 27%.
More consistent progress on indicators reflecting the employment prospects of young people. For example, the percent of high school freshmen who graduated in four years had increased, as of the 2008-9 school year.
But when we turn to workers in low-wage occupations, we see a partial explanation for the widening income gap.
For full-time workers in service occupations, median annual earnings were just $24,300 — less than $2,000 over the poverty line for a family of four. There’s been no real dollar increase for them since 2000.
Lack of paid sick leave is one — though far from the only — factor depressing yearly earnings for low-wage workers.
In 2011, only 36% of workers earning no more than $11.13 per hour, i.e., slightly below the median or less, had any paid sick leave benefit. This is 4% less than in 2010, suggesting that a lot of not-good jobs got worse.
Strong Families and Communities
Most indicators in this group relate to the current and prospective well-being of children and young adults. And they all moved in the right direction in 2011.
We see, for example, that the teen birth rate continued its downward slide, reaching a record low of 31.3 births for every thousand women in the 15-19 age bracket.
And the percent of people without health insurance dropped from 16.3% to 15.7%. We can credit this to the initial impacts of the Affordable Care Act, Half in Ten says.
End of moderately good news. Only one indicator — food insecurity — remained relatively flat. And even that increased from 14.5% of households in 2010 to 14.9% in 2011.
The percent of jobless workers who received unemployment benefits dropped by 10% to just over half.
Low-wage workers faced a growing affordable housing shortage. In 2010, there were only 58 affordable units available for every 100 very low-income renter households. This is four fewer than in 2009.
No relatively current figures for asset poverty, i.e., less in savings and other cash sources than a family would need to live at or above the poverty line if it had no income stream for three months.
What we know from the indicator is that the percent of asset-poor households increased by 4% between 2006 and 2009, leaving somewhat over 27% of all households at high risk of poverty.
What Will Next Year’s Indicators Show?
Congress has already decided that the unemployment benefits indicator will worsen — unless prospects for long-term job seekers dramatically improve.
It seems on the brink of deciding to let the food insecurity rate rise, since both the House and Senate Farm Bills would cut benefits for half a million households.
But the fate of most indicators — and the people whose lives underlie them — depend on what sort of bargain Republicans and Democrats strike to address the misnamed fiscal cliff.
Half in Ten offers “the right choices” for them — which, of course, are very different from the choices of the right.
* The 2010 figures are supposed to be accessible online. They weren’t when I published this, but I’m told the web tech team is working on a fix.