Thursday, September 15, 2011

U.S. Poverty Hits 50-Year High

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau (reported on Democracy Now) suggests that 46.2 million, or one in six, Americans were living in poverty last year, the highest number since they began tracking this data over 50 years ago.

Over 50% of the poor were African American and Hispanic. Kids under the age of 18 had the highest poverty rate, with one in five living in poverty, while the poverty rate for black children was 39%. However, 10% of all U.S. children are living in “deep” poverty as defined as half of the official poverty level, or less than $11,000 per year for a family of four. Overall, childhood poverty reached its highest level since 1962.

The official poverty level of $22,000 per year for a family of four is already a pathetically low number and does not accurately reflect the number of really poor people in this country. There are millions more who earn more than the official poverty rate, but still cannot afford to clothe, feed house and medicate their families. For example, a family of four living in a city like San Francisco could easily spend $22,000 per year just on the rent for a two-bedroom apartment. In fact, it would be extremely difficult for a single person to live on this income in most California cities.

The number of people living below the poverty line increased by 2.6 million over the last two years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Of these 2.6 million, two-thirds claimed they did not work a single week last year. The median household income fell 2.3% last year, and 7% since 2000. California’s median household income plunged 4.6% to $54,459 —the largest single-year decline on record.

Obviously, unemployment is a major cause of the increase in poverty. However, there are other contributing factors, too. With changes to bankruptcy laws the make it much more difficult for individuals to declare bankruptcy, combined with skyrocketing healthcare costs, even for those lucky enough to have insurance, many people are being thrown into poverty by illnesses and accidents. There are also those who have jobs, but still do not earn enough to make it in today’s economy because of low wages. The purchasing power of the average American worker has been steadily declining since the 1970s because wages have not kept up with inflation, while the number of decent-paying union jobs and the ability and willingness of unions to fight for better living conditions has deteriorated.

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