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Inverse Proportions

The Census Bureau released their newest numbers on poverty in the US this morning, and the results were not pretty. The portion of Americans living in povertyHelp.jpg last year rose to the highest level since 1993, with additional 2.6 million people slipped below the poverty line in 2010. This makes 46.2 million people in poverty in the United States, the highest number in the 52 years the Census Bureau has been tracking it. If you're inclined to do the math, that means that roughly one out of every six Americans live in poverty.

Half in Ten, the campaign to cut poverty in half over 10 years, urged Congress and the administration today to take immediate action in response to new Census Bureau data for 2010 that reveal a significant increase in poverty and hardship and a weakened middle class. Specifically, the data show that 2.6 million more Americans fell into poverty, median incomes declined by 2.3 percent, and 50 million people lacked health care coverage. These trends carry short-term and long-term consequences for our economy. Action NC is a Half in Ten coaltion partner.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call to policymakers that we cannot have a shared economic recovery while leaving millions of our citizens behind. More families in poverty means fewer consumers for American goods and services and a less-educated workforce to build the jobs and industries of the future. It is imperative that Congress and the administration take immediate action to reverse these troubling trends and rebuild the middle class,” said Melissa Boteach, manager of Half in Ten.

While the data are troubling, they also reveal that government policies helped mitigate the extent to which Americans suffered poverty and hardship. The earned income tax credit and unemployment insurance kept 5.4 million and 3.2 million people out of poverty respectively. And Medicaid provided health care to 48.6 million seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income children and families, many of whom would otherwise be without access to health care.

“Programs such as unemployment insurance have helped struggling families weather the storm, but threaten to expire before the labor market fully recovers,” stated Winnie Stachelberg, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Half in Ten partner. “As the super committee holds its first hearing today, its members should examine these data closely and commit to protecting programs serving low-income Americans.”

Unfortunately, the ranks of these low-income Americans are increasingly characterized by stubbornly persistent racial, ethnic, and gender disparities.

“These numbers confirm what millions of Americans have long felt. The recovery is not trickling down to the average worker, with communities of color, women, and single-parent households still feeling the harshest effects of the Great Recession,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a Half in Ten partner. “We cannot expect these trends to reverse themselves; concerted action is needed to create jobs and invest in vulnerable families if we are to ensure shared prosperity and opportunity for all.”

To that end, Half in Ten and its partners are calling on Congress to act with urgency to create jobs through mechanisms similar to President Obama’s proposals, including continuing federal unemployment benefits, extending the payroll tax cut in a way most likely to increase employment, investing in infrastructure, creating subsidized employment opportunities for low-income workers, and providing aid to states and localities.

The campaign is also calling on Congress to protect low-income families in proposals to reduce the long-term deficit, as has been the precedent in all past bipartisan deficit-reduction agreements. “These data show that low- and moderate-income Americans continue to be battered by this recession,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a Half in Ten partner. “Congressional proposals to slash low-income programs will deepen the poverty and inequality faced by those already hit hard and sabotage efforts to prevent a return to recession. We cannot hope for long-term deficit reduction without a growing economy, and we cannot have the growth we need if we exclude tens of millions of Americans from contributing to it.”

Half in Ten was launched in 2008 to urge local, state, and national leaders to set a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, and to build the political and public will to advance legislation and programs that will help us to reach it. More information on the campaign can be found at www.halfinten.org.