« State Dept. Chides Eight Countries on Religious Freedom | Main | Baylor Study: The Politics of God's Plan for Your Life »

September 14, 2011

Poverty on the Rise: Children and Vulnerable Hit Hardest in 2010

The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that poverty is continuing to rise in the United States. The poverty rate—the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line—reached 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. There are now more than 46 million people in poverty and nearly 50 million without health insurance coverage. Poverty is now the worst it has been since 1993.

The situation is even worse for children: One in four children under six years of age now live in poverty. This is nearly twice the rate of poverty for adults, and the situation for children is made worse if they live in a single-parent household. Only 6.2 percent of families led by married parents are below the poverty line. If a wife is absent, the chances of living in poverty jump to 15.8 percent. Without a husband, a family does even worse. Nearly one in three families headed by single mothers lives below the poverty line.


Poverty continues to be worse for other vulnerable people in society. There are stark contrasts between key demographic groups in America. Compared to where they were in 2009, those with disabilities were hit hardest by the economy. They have a poverty rate twice that of those who are not disabled. African-Americans and Latinos also continue to have a poverty rate twice that of Whites (not Hispanic) or Asian-Americans. Citizens are more economically secure than those living in the U.S. who are not citizens.


Sojourners president Jim Wallis said that the new figures raises the importance of poverty as both a religious and political issue.

“These new poverty numbers should be the number one religious issue for the 2012 presidential election,” Wallis said. “If a candidate for president claims to follow Jesus, then their concern should be for the poor. If they profess faith in God, they should faithfully observe God’s concern for the oppressed. It’s up to voters to evaluate how the candidates respond to these numbers and it’s up to the media to hold leaders accountable to their professed beliefs.”

One key to getting of poverty is employment. Obviously, a job helps people stay of out poverty, but the effect of working full-time is significant. Those working full-time have a poverty rate of only 2.6 percent. Working part-time (but for the whole year) increases the chances of being in poverty by over 500 percent. Those who are unemployed for as little as one week have an 800 percent greater likelihood of living below the poverty line. And unlike race, disability, or citizenship, employment is something that can change if the economic conditions improve.

Bread for the World president David Beckmann said that the figures should also serve as a warning to the so-called Super Committee. This bipartisan commission is considering how to reduce the federal deficit. Bread for the World is part of the ecumenical Circle of Protection, a coalition  that includes the National Association of Evangelicals, Catholic Charities, and the National Council of Churches. The Circle is actively lobbying Congress and the White House for the continuation of federal anti-poverty programs.

“Low-income working families did not create the economic situation that our nation is in, but they tend to be the first hurt and the last to recover during a recession,” said Beckmann. “These new poverty figures indicate that many Americans are still suffering.”


Meanwhile, Wall Street is reaping record benefits again. Big US companies are sitting on huge loads of cash but won't hire. And Evangelicals overwhelmingly support the party which is only interested in looking after the interests of the super-rich.

This "everyone should fend for themselves" philosophy so dear to so many in the US (especially Libertarians) has been instrumental in creating this situation.

Time for a change of heart.

When compared to the poor in African nations and other parts of the world, our poor are not poor. They are needy and without some level of welfare would be destitute. But, we are not into our third if not the beginning of a fourth generation of people in poverty. We should help, both government and the church, those who are needy so that no one is destitute. But the current process creates a culture that does not help individuals become self-sufficient. Some kind of reform is needed.

Dear Mark,
I am not going to argue further about policy, because we're both pretty certain of our respective points of view, and I don't think we will be able to convince one another. So let us agree to disagree.
One thing I would like to point out though, is that I didn't use the words "blind" or "ignorant" to refer to you or to Evangelicals in general, but "misinformed". There's a big difference. "Blind" and "ignorant" imply a negative judgment on your capacity to think. "Misinformed" means that you have been given wrong information by sources whose goal is to mislead people. And that is sincerely what I believe: I believe that good, honest people are being consistently given wrong information in order to keep them voting in one direction which happens to be contrary to their own interests.
Here's what a retired republican congressional staffer wrote about the strategy of his own party:

To Jim: now, you don't need to look at Africa to find starving children:

The idea that the government forced business to make bad mortgage loans is a zombie lie of the right wing media. Even the Wall Street Journal (Nick Timiraos) knows Fannie and Freddie weren't the culprits with only 6.8% of Fannie and Freddie mortgages nonperforming compared to 19.7% of those in banks' portfolios.

More broadly, the idea that government was behind the crisis is debunked by David Min's report. You might not like the source, but read the thing and you'll see.

And let's face it folks, the government did not force mortgage holders to bundle them into mortgage backed securities that could be sold as supposedly sound investments so the folk placing risky mortgages could offload them onto investors and bank the profit before the mortgages went sour. The government didn't force Wall Street investment banks to sell these MBS to their customers while avoiding holding them themselves as too risky. The government didn't force those investment banks to bet against those securities being good so that if what they sold their customers turned out to be junk the bank that sold them would make a tidy profit. The government didn't force Standard and Poors to rate those MBS as being low risk when they were obviously high risk.

Nope. Acquaintance with the facts demonstrates that this was not a 'made in Washington' meltdown, but a 'made on Wall Street' meltdown.

Malnourished children in the US among those so called "poor", are probably the result of the parents not feeding them. While at the same time they're stuffing themselves with all kinds of junk food, beer, liquor, tobacco and yes, DRUGS. I meant DRUGS and lots of them.

Poverty in the US is mostly caused by a behavior, conduct, lifestyle and a lack of work ethic and morals. The high incidence of single-parenthood among women is proof undeniable of that.

Although a lack of a good work ethic is rampant in the general populace as a whole.

It's been said with good reason and I believe has even been the subject of well documented research by the Census Bureau itself among others. That the poor in the US are way better of, than the poor in the rest of the world. Most of them have access to services and consumer goods that only the middle class in most countries in the world have.

Services like Electricity, running water, roads, schools, school buses. Emergency services like fire, police and ambulance service, telephone. Many or most of the so called "poor", in the US, own TV's, radios, refrigerators, microwaves, cell phones etc. Most of them also own cars and their homes. Plus they have access to all the welfare programs that the rest of the world can only dream of.

All of the above, is available only to the middle class or the rich in the rest of the world.

Personally, I feel that the gov't should work towards giving those at or below the poverty level a better job than Mc Donald's. Fast food restaurants are not the place to make a livelihood on; neither is welfare.

I applaud President Obama's latest economic stimulus bill and yesterday's (09/19/2011) tax hike proposals.

Finally, the government should work for everyday Americans and not for those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Of course there are people suffering due to the excessive government borrowing and disintegration of the family of the last 20+ years. But, the so called poverty line was a quick invention of some beauracrats that was never evaluated or "peer reviewed". This was before the massive increase in public support, welfare, food stamps, etc. The "poor" now have an income that, to my understanding, is not included in calculating a "poverty line", i.e. some of the poor are better off than ever. I work in a neighborhood that is 90% on SSI and food stamps. Still my family is one of the few that does not have a mega size wide-screen TV.