Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Census stats likely to show highest poverty rate since 1965

Posted By on 09.11.12 at 02:16 PM

A protester in New York City last September
  • Sasha Y. Kimel
  • A protester in New York City last September
The Census Bureau releases its poverty stats for 2011 tomorrow morning, and they'll likely show the nation's poverty rate to have reached its highest level in 46 years.

The poverty rate has climbed the last four years, from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15.1 in 2010. The 2010 rate was the highest since 1993, when it was also 15.1. Poverty experts I've spoken with think the rate announced tomorrow may be as high as 15.4. That would be the highest since 1965, when it was 17.3.

The current poverty line is $11,344 for an individual, and $22,350 for a family of four.

Poverty rates have been calculated by the Census Bureau annually since 1959. That year, 22.4 percent of the nation was living in poverty. Largely because of antipoverty programs created in the 1960s, the rate was more than halved by 1973, when it was 11.1. Ronald Reagan's glib assertion in 1987 that "In the sixties, we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won" was wrong; it's more accurate to say that we briefly fought poverty, poverty was losing, and we quit.

The recent rise in the poverty rate isn't solely due to the recession; the rate has been climbing fairly steadily since 2000. Also troublesome are increases in the child poverty rate. In 1970, 25 percent of the elderly were poor; that declined to 9 percent by 2010. But child poverty rose meantime, from 15 percent to 22 percent.

And poverty continues to be a special burden for African-Americans, especially those in acutely segregated cities like Chicago. The African-American child poverty rate is 38 percent. Far greater proportions of African-Americans are in deep poverty—they're living below half the poverty line. And blacks are far more likely to live in concentrated poverty—census tracts in which at least 40 percent of the residents are poor. These are the neighborhoods with the notorious homicide rates, with excessive rates of infant mortality and deaths from cancer and heart disease, with beleaguered schools, fires, rampant foreclosures, and the host of other problems that poverty so dependably produces.

While poverty keeps growing and deepening, President Obama and Mitt Romney have said next to nothing about it. They're competing for campaign funds from the wealthy and votes from the broad middle class; what do the poor have to offer them?

More on poverty tomorrow, after the Census Bureau releases its data.

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