The Census Bureau’s 2008 report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage confirms what we already knew. The recession has pushed an enormous number of people into poverty. Between 2007 and 2008:
- The number of people living below the federal poverty threshold increased by nearly 2.6 million–from 12.5% to 13.2% of the population.
- The number of poor children increased to more than 14 million–19% of all children.
- Nearly 34% of black children and 30.6% of Hispanic children were poor.
- The number of children in deep poverty (below 50% of the poverty threshold) rose to nearly 6.3 million–8.5% of all children.
But this is only part of the story. The Coalition on Human Needs gives us a table that compares the most recent figures to the figures for 2000, just before the last recession set in. It shows that in 2008:
- There were 8.2 million more poor people and nearly 2.5 million more poor children than in 2000.
- The percentage of people in poverty was 1.9% higher and the percentage of poor children 3.2% higher.
- The number of children in deep poverty was more than 1.6 million (2.1%) higher.
And that’s still only part of the story because the recession has deepened since 2008. Last year’s unemployment rate averaged 5.8%. It’s now at 9.7%. And economists foresee no turnaround until some time next year, if then.
The Economic Policy Institute projects that by 2010:
- The poverty rate will have climbed to 15.1%–and to 31.6% for blacks.
- More than one in four children will be living in poverty.
- More than 46% of single-mother families will be below the poverty threshold–up from 37% in 2008.
Economists at the Brookings Institution have come to similar conclusions, though their numbers are slightly different. And they doubt the poverty rate will get back to its 2007 level during the next 10 years.
So, they say, the extra funds the economic stimulus package provides for disadvantaged families “will fade away long before the poverty rate is expected to peak.” We need to shore up the safety net for the long term, as well as to ensure that more people have the education and training they need to benefit from the opportunities the economy will ultimately provide.
Deborah Weinstein at CHN also calls both for continuing aid in the economic stimulus package and for investments that will create jobs and renew the economy. Failure to act, she says, will delay our further recovery. But it’s also “a moral wrong, since it causes preventable harm to vulnerable people.”
The harm she’s talking about speaks for itself in the poverty thresholds all these dire figures are based on. Nearly 40 million people below these thresholds–more than 17 million people at half or less than these.
Surely we can’t just tell these people to tighten their belts, keep on striving and wait for better days.