A woman walks by a dilapidated house in Nebraska. (Reuters)
For me, the biggest takeaway from the new Census data on poverty has little to do with the data itself—it’s this: we’ve long known what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty, and we still know what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty. But we’re not doing it.
If you look all the way back to the 2007 inaugural report of the Half in Ten campaign—written by Peter Edelman, Angela Glover Blackwell and other antipoverty heavyweights—it was clear then that raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and improving childcare assistance could reduce poverty by 26 percent. Add lessons that we have since learned from initiatives like the bipartisan (at least when it comes to state governors) subsidized jobs program, and a more responsive food stamp (SNAP) program, and we know that we could make significant strides to reduce poverty were there the political will—or more accurately, a movement to create the political will.
In lieu of that, for the eleventh time in twelve years, poverty has worsened or stayed the same. It remains stuck at 15 percent, with 46 million people living on less than about $18,300 for a family of three. That includes nearly 22 percent of all children, 27 percent of African-Americans, 25 percent of Hispanics and more than 28 percent of people with disabilities (the next group conservatives will likely target after they are through with those who currently need food stamp assistance).
Significantly, 44 percent of those in poverty live below half the poverty line—in “deep poverty”—on less than about $9,150 for a family of three. That adds up to 20.4 million people, and includes 15 million women and children—nearly 10 percent of all children in the United States. Deep poverty and its accompanying toxic stress are particularly harmful to children. We also have evidence that just a modest boost in income—$3000 in earnings or government benefits for a family living on less than $25,000—makes a significant difference in the lives of young children when they reach adulthood, both in the hours they will work and the income they will earn.