Poverty is Growing in the United States

Poverty rates are rising according to new figures by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Poverty rates are rising according to new figures by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of people living in poverty increased from 12.1 percent in 2001 to 12.4 percent in 2002. The child poverty rate increased almost a full percentage point, from 16.4 percent in 2001 to 17.2 percent in 2002. Altogether there were about 1.4 million more people living in poverty in 2002, for a total of 34.7 million people. Under the definition of poverty used by the Census Bureau, a family of four would need an income of less than $18,000 to be counted as poor.

These figures are from the latest release (September 4) of the "American Community Survey Change Profile". You can get information about poverty in your state by going to the data tables and searching by state. Additionally, there are useful statistics about education, housing, employment, income, and more.

The American Community Survey is a rolling month-to-month sample of the social and economic composition of 742,000 households in 1,239 counties across the United States. It provides a "moving" picture of social and economic changes. The Census Bureau will release its "official" measure of poverty and income in the U.S. during 2002 later in September. For a preview, you can view last year's "Poverty in the United States: 2001" report.

A rise in poverty can be attributed to the economic slow-down. It should be a signal to the President and policymakers about the importance of shoring up the safety net during an economic downturn. It hasn't turned out that way. The child tax credit, which did not extend to low-income families, is just one example. The fact that children have been hit the hardest is a strong indictment of the President's brand of "compassionate conservatism."

Coincidentally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also issued a report on September 3 showing that from March 2002 to March 2003, the number of recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) declined 4.3 percent and the number of families receiving benefits under TANF declined by 2 percent. HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson heralded the reduction as evidence of the success of welfare reform. However, rising poverty levels and shrinking TANF caseloads ought to be evidence that we are not heading in the right direction. A good analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues that a decline in TANF benefits without a showing of more, rather than less, economic security among low-income families is a cause for alarm, not complacency.

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