According to a report released September 13 by the US Census Bureau, the worst economic downturn in decades has left more Americans living in poverty and produced a strain on the government’s safety net not seen since the 1930s.
“Clearly the safety net has helped, but it’s got holes in it,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former White House economist.
With the overall unemployment rate in the United States hovering at more than nine percent, the poverty rate also climbed last year to 15.1 percent. The report indicates the number of poor Americans is the highest it has been in the fifty two years the Bureau has been publishing poverty estimates, and the number also represents the highest poverty level since 1993. The number of Americans living below the poverty level has increased to a record 46.2 million, according to the Census data.
As high as the poverty rate currently is in the United States, it would be even higher if it were not for a variety of government programs put in place to blunt the impact of the recession. The Census estimates that the 2009 extension of unemployment benefits helped 3.2 million Americans remain above the poverty line. The United States government defines the poverty level as an income below $22,314 for a family of four. In addition, in 2010 Social Security benefits enabled 20.3 million senior citizens and disabled adults to also remain above the poverty level. Millions more Americans are also able to stretch household food budgets a little more with food stamps. Since the recession officially began in 2007 the number of US households receiving food stamps has nearly doubled to 21.4 million.
Despite the programs designed to help them, millions of Americans have still fallen through the cracks of the government ‘safety net’. The Census report also indicates the poverty rate rose faster in the period from 2001 to 2010 than in any other three year period since the early 1980s. Americans at that time were dealing with rising energy prices, high inflation, rising interest rates and high unemployment.
The recession has left a lasting impression on the US job market, and the lack of work was a major force in driving many American families into poverty in 2010. In addition to more than four unemployed Americans for every open job position, what job growth there has been has been concentrated in occupations that pay lower wages. There has been slow growth in mid wage jobs and overall job losses in higher wage occupation, according to a recent analysis by the National Employment Law Project. For the lowest twenty percent of income earners earnings have fallen by 11.3 percent, according to the Census data.
The recession also has done severe damage to the personal safety nets of many Americans. Many facing income loss and other financial issues have used up much of their personal savings just to stay afloat. The weak labor market has left many of them without a steady paycheck; with the number of men working year round decreasing by 6.6 million, and the number of women working year round decreasing by 2.8 million.
The length of time many job seekers remain unemployed has also lengthened. As of September 2011, forty three percent of unemployed workers had been searching for work for twenty seven weeks or longer, according to US Department of Labor statistics. This number is more than double the number seen in any economic recovery for the past fifty years. As of April of 2011, fourteen percent of unemployed job seekers have been unemployed for ninety nine weeks or longer. These grim numbers do not include unemployed workers who have given up looking for work and are no longer considered to be ‘officially’ unemployed.
As the recession has aggravated the factors that send Americans into poverty, such as persistently high unemployment, analysts fear the impact will be felt long after the US economy recovers and the unemployment rate finally begins to drop. Households with income levels below the poverty level save at a lower rate, and have limited access to services and education for their children. Children raised in poverty are much more likely to become impoverished as adults.
“This is the generation that’s going to be fueling the recovery and the competitive position of the US twenty years from now,” said Sheila Zedlewski, director of Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center. “The longer that a child stays in a household with very low income or in poverty, the bigger the effect later in life.”
Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010
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Disabled Workers Services in Arizona
Mature Workers Services in Arizona
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Job Seekers Assistance in Arizona
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