Over 43 Million Americans Now Live in Poverty

Annual data released Thursday, Sept. 16, by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that almost 43.6 million Americans (about one in every seven people) now live in poverty, the highest number since record-keeping began in 1959. This is an increase of 3.7 million Americans in 2009.

Robert Greenstein, executive director, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, issued a statement Thursday, giving reasons for this sad state of affairs in America.

“These increases reflect the deep recession and the unusually large amount of long-term unemployment,” Greenstein stated.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization and policy institute.

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The number of jobs dropped by more than 8 million between the start of 2008 and the end of 2009. More than half of that loss — 61 percent — occurred before President Obama and Congress enacted the Recovery Act in February 2009, the statement said.

In addition, by late 2009, the share of unemployed workers who had been out of work for more than six months topped 40 percent, a record for modern recessions. The longer people are out of work, the more likely that they will fall into poverty.

Earlier this month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the private sector added 67,000 jobs in August, marking the eighth consecutive month of gains for America’s workers. Pelosi also mentioned about government’s plan to create jobs at home through ‘Make It In America’ manufacturing strategy. (Read: Pelosi Preaches ‘Make It In America’ Plan for Jobs)

However, a report from the Center for Immigration Studies reveals that less-educated, younger, and minority American workers face the worst job market in decades, far worse than their more educated counterparts. (Read: Bad Job Scene for Less-Educated in America)

Even children are badly affected because of persisting poverty. Currently, nearly one in four children lives in a household that has trouble putting food on the table, says the philanthropic organization, Bread for the World.

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) has also hit record levels, it says.

About 40.5 million people a month–more than one-eighth of the total U.S. population–receive SNAP benefits. This figure is projected to rise to 43.3 million in 2011.

“We need to urge our nation’s leaders to do more to help the millions of struggling families,” said David Beckmann, president Bread for the World. “Tax credits for low-and moderate-income households likely kept some people from falling into poverty this year. However, their expiration during a time of widespread unemployment brings risks of increased poverty rates.”

Another domestic hunger-relief charity Feeding America has also issued its reactions. It says the new poverty statistics underscore the findings of Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2010 study, which was released in February.

It concluded that Feeding America is now providing food to more than 37 million Americans annually, including 14 million children, an increase of 46 percent over 2006.

Additional Census Bureau Report findings for 2009 say that for children younger than 18, the poverty rate increased from 18 percent in 2007 to 20.7 percent in 2009, bringing the number of children living in poverty to nearly 15.5 million, an increase of over 2.1 million children.

And in 2009, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic whites (9.4 percent in 2009, up from 8.6 percent in 2008), Asian-Americans (12.5 percent in 2009, up from 11.8 percent in 2008), Hispanics (25.3 percent in 2009, up from 23.2 percent in 2008), and African-Americans (25.8 percent in 2009, up from 24.7 percent in 2008).

“These numbers indicate that our food banks will continue to see large numbers of Americans needing emergency help to feed both themselves and their families. We are particularly concerned that so many children are living in poverty,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America.

Poverty will likely remain very high in 2010 and climb even higher in 2011. The average unemployment rate in 2011 is expected to be 9.0 to 9.3 percent.

And in each of the past three recessions, poverty did not begin to fall until a year after the unemployment rate began to fall.

Furthermore, key forms of federal assistance — including additional weeks of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed and a temporary program that has created 250,000 mostly private-sector jobs for low-income parents and youth — are slated to expire by the end of this year.

It is believed if Congress fails to extend these measures and unemployment remains high, poverty and hardship almost certainly will climb still higher next year.

Photo courtesy: Feeding America

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