A map at Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that depicts food distribution points across the state. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Exactly five years since the onset of the financial crisis, income data released this morning by the Census Bureau indicates that the spike in poverty triggered by the recession has become the status quo. Middle-class incomes are stagnant, too.
The numbers come as House Republicans move to kick as many as 4 million Americans off food stamps by cutting $40 billion from the program. In their budget proposals, conservatives are also proposing to maintain the deep sequestration reductions that have cut tens of thousands of young children out of Head Start, as well as childcare assistance, Meals On Wheels for seniors, unemployment benefits, and housing assistance.
More than 46 million Americans lived in poverty last year, representing 15 percent of the population. For three years now there have been more Americans in poverty than at any other point since the Census Bureau began collecting data in 1959, and the poverty rate is hovering at its highest level since 1997. While many economists had hoped to see a small decrease in the poverty rate, the only statistically significant change was the additional 300,000 elderly Americans who fell below the poverty line.
“This far out from the great recession it would have been really nice to see gains to income, and reductions in poverty and large increases in health insurance coverage, and we didn’t see any of that,” said Elise Gould, an Economist at the Economic Policy Institute. Overall, she said, the Census figures show that the economic recovery has passed over most Americans. “When I think about economic growth, I think about economic growth for everyday Americans. There we’re talking about median households, median families; we’re also talking about people at the bottom.”
The numbers show that poverty grips women and children particularly fiercely. More than a fifth of all children live in poverty; one in three poor Americans are children. Inequality across race persists, too, with more than a quarter of black and Hispanic Americans living in poverty, compared to just 9.7 percent of whites.
While the poverty rate rose for both women and men during the recession, the percentage of men in poverty last year was still lower than it has ever been for women. Joan Entmacher, the vice president of Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center, said that decades of unequal wages along with the uneven effects of the recession account for the gender gap. “The jobs that are coming back in this recovery, especially for women, are very low wage jobs. And there aren’t enough of them,” she said.