In a Time of High Unemployment, Over 45 Million Americans Live in Poverty


Image Source: cdc.gov

As high unemployment continues to grip America, the number of people who the US government says are living in poverty has eclipsed 45 million. According to recent statistics by the US Census, the official number is 46.2 million, or about 15% of the US population. This is the same as 2011, which means that the US has seen the biggest increase in poverty since the 1960s.

Of course, exactly who is ‘poor’ or ‘in poverty’ depends a great deal on how you define these terms. Who exactly is living in poverty depends a good deal on who you ask. Even the US government does not always give us a clear answer. It also depends somewhat on the state in which you live. In one state, earning $1000 each month could get you food stamp aid, but in another, you may not qualify for Medicaid.

But what exactly do the higher poverty numbers mean? It seems a logical conclusion that many of the consequences of the Great Recession are still being felt. Poverty logically increases when there is a large increase in the unemployment rate. There simply are not enough good-paying jobs for people, and they are not able to provide for their families the way they once could.

According to former Clinton administration official Peter Edelman, there are millions of people who are working, but still are not able to climb out of poverty. This is because there is an excess of low wage, part time jobs out there that just provides enough income for people to keep their heads above water. But such jobs are not enough for people to build savings and to climb out of the low income trap in which they find themselves.

The fact is that most of the new jobs since the economic crisis began in 2007 are lower wage jobs. The National Employment Law Project has found that about 40% of the jobs that were made between 2008 and 2010 were lower wage positions. And in the longer view, things look quite bleak. Since 1979, the US has lost about 33% of its ability to create a ‘good job.’ This is a job that pays in the range of $35,000 per year, with benefits. Few low wage jobs have benefits or health insurance.

Some experts believe that the government can spend vast sums of taxpayer money with the intent to lower poverty, but results are minimal. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, the feds spent about $700 billion on assistance programs in 2011, but the number of poor people did not budge.

Another aspect of poverty to keep in mind is that ‘the poor’ are not a static group as some believe. In fact, about 60% of Americans will live under the poverty line for at least one year of their lives.

As we debate what needs to be done to address poverty, it is helpful to keep in mind that even spending vast sums of money typically does little to budge the poverty rate.

How can we possibly allow such Poverty in the most developed country in the world?

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