In 2007, over 37 million Americans, or 12.5 percent of the US population, lived below the federal poverty line–$21,200 for a family of four (well below the income truly required to make ends meet in our economy.) And now, as we head into this deepening recession, we’re looking at a jump in the number of people living in poverty.
According to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), based on Goldman Sachs’ projection of a 9 percent unemployment rate by the end of 2009, the number of Americans living in poverty will increase from 7.5 to 10.3 million people, of which 3.3 million total will be poor children, with 1.5 to 2 million more children living in families with incomes below half of the poverty line, or what is called “deep poverty”. (CBPP’s numbers are consistent with the rise in poverty relative to the increase in unemployment over the last three recessions.)
What’s even more ominous about the current recession as compared to those of the past, the CBPP report warns, is the truly depleted state of the safety net: “Because this recession is likely to be deep and the government safety net for very poor families who lack jobs has weakened significantly in recent years, increases in deep poverty in this recession are likely to be severe.”
CBPP points to some early indicators that “poverty is now climbing rapidly.” Food stamp caseloads rose by 2.6 million people between August 2007 and August 2008. In 25 states, at least one in five children is now receiving food stamps. According to the USDA’s annual report on food security, nearly one in eight Americans struggled with hunger in 2007 — which means “36.2 million adults and children… didn’t have the money or assistance to get enough food to maintain active, healthy lives.” 691,000 children “suffered a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat” — a more than 50 percent increase from 2006 and the highest number since 1998. James Weill, president of the Food Research Action Committee, said that the current economic downturn isn’t reflected in the USDA report on hunger and 2008 numbers “almost certainly will be far worse.”