Poverty Rate Remains Steady While Income Inequality Grows

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Homeless people line up in Franklin Park in downtown Washington to receive food and clothing from the congregation of Greater Saint John Church of Upper Marlboro, Md. May 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Homeless people line up in Franklin Park in downtown Washington to receive food and clothing from the congregation of Greater Saint John Church of Upper Marlboro, Md., Saturday, May 19, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A new census report shows that the middle class is still suffering the impact of the financial crisis that started four years ago this week. Although poverty rates remained steady from 2010 to 2011, the news wasn’t good. The number of people living in poverty — 46.2 million — is the highest ever recorded in the 53 years the Census Bureau has been tracking it.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that statistics like one in four children under the age of 6 live are living in poverty isn’t headline news, as Hannah Matthews, the director of child care and early education at CLASP, writes on The Huffington Post:

As is tradition on ‘poverty day,’ journalists, advocates, and politicians alike will express outrage for the dismal poverty statistics. In the midst of a presidential campaign that has left the needs of the very poor largely unspoken, both candidates may make reference to the need to do more for those at the bottom of the income scale.

But by week’s end, it’s far too likely that the poor among us will have fallen out of consciousness. And what’s worse, government policies are on the verge of making things much harder for the poorest families — rather than ameliorating a persistent problem. Beginning January 1, harmful, automatic spending cuts are set to hit many programs that provide critical supports for children and families, exacerbating the negative impacts of living in poverty. Child care assistance and Head Start will both be cut, as will early intervention services for young children, Title I funding for disadvantaged students and funding for maternal and child health services.

The report also showed that median household income fell to its lowest point — $50,054 — since 1995 and the gap between the rich and the poor grew larger. Steve Jarding, a lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, told Bloomberg News that “[w]eirdly, I think you’re going to see both sides take these numbers and suggest it’s evidence why ‘I should be elected.’”

And that’s exactly what happened.

In a White House blog post, deputy press secretary Amy Brundage pointed to the numbers and wrote that the president hopes Congress will vote this month to extend the middle class tax cuts and pass the jobs bill that has been before Congress for the past year.

Meanwhile, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said in a email statement that “Mitt Romney’s pro-growth agenda will revive our economy.”

Whether either candidate will continue to talk about poverty after the week is through remains to be seen, but one can only hope that the new report will spur renewed interest in those struggling the most at the bottom of the economy.

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  • T.R. Lewis

    Mr. Moyers, these are sad statistics but in Indian Country they are something for us to achieve. I am a Social Worker in Cherokee County, Oklahoma and we have tracked desperate poverty statistics where 60% of the children in a population where three major geographical areas have 32.3% poverty. This is on spite of two regional hospitals, a regional university and a progressive 12 year administration which hired 5,000 additional employees for operation of the Cherokee Nation.

  • JonThomas

    From these telling statistics one is left to wonder what fraction of those living in poverty have jobs, and reflect the “working poor.”

    There is also the increasing problem that lower class people are having with compensation value. Without a “living wage,” people are often forced to work for minimum or slightly above minimum wage. The value of workers time versus the wage level paid for that time is insufficient…

    A person has to own and maintain a vehicle, with insurance (or in cities, has to pay for public transportation.)

    There are usually no benefits, such as health insurance, paid to these workers. With costs as high as they are, low wage workers can “ill” afford to get sick (the new healthcare plan may very well hurt these people even more, but we’ll have to wait to see how it will shake out in practice.)

    Taking a day off because of emergencies can cost a person their job. Low wage jobs often only allow for a few days vacation each year. People need days off for recreation. If someone gets sick or has an emergency, they are often put in a position where they must choose between low paying, very frustrating, and physically exhausting jobs, and their families.

    They are often told they will have to work on their scheduled days off or lose their job.

    After a time of this, when the week is done, and they are deeper in debt then when they started, they begin to wonder if it’s worth working. They try to live up to the conditioned American ideal of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and suffer under the inner turmoil caused by the resulting conflict between reality and empty promises. Their conditioning begins to erode and they give up.

    Then they are blamed for such things as “paying little to no share of taxes,” being lazy, draining the Government of resources, being “carried” by the rich (who are often their employers,) welfare dregs, adding to the federal debt…and many other mentally and emotionally destablizing accusations.

    The peer pressure of being financial failures and somehow being less of a human is devastating even if many of these people don’t fully grasp the the forces they are being torn apart under. Those who do understand are brained washed by medias into working against their own self-interest.

    There are times that I hope the powder keg is primed.

    There are more factors but this is long enough. Maybe others can add.

  • nanalaska

    I have just one question. Where were all of the liberals when Pres. Clinton and Congress when they passed NAFTA and Free Trade with China? It totally gutted our manufacturing in America and put millions out of work. If that weren’t bad enough, then they flooded the country with Third World immigrants further depressing wages.