A new report was released this week on poverty in America. It’s going unnoticed by the media, at least for now, partly because of the breaking news that Fed chair Ben Bernanke plans to dump $40 billion a month into mortgage backed securities in a rather interesting way of saving the American economy. Americans will find an easier time relating to the poverty report than they will a reckless government decision. Still, the latest report on poverty in America is one we should all take an interest in.
The report, released by the Census Bureau, says social security payments kept 21.4 million Americans – with more than half of them being senior citizens – out of poverty in 2011, albeit barely. Another 2.3 million Americans were saved from poverty courtesy of unemployment payments. The one wild card that’s not included in these numbers are the number of Americans who relied on food stamps and certain tax breaks. This is interesting because food, one would think, is important when it comes to reports on poverty. What is included is how these various programs “would have helped keep poverty in check”. Confused? So are we.
For the record, we’re not the only ones who are scratching our heads. There have been experts who have voiced their concerns that the Census numbers aren’t accurate reflections. By not including the non cash public aid programs along with the tax credits, it’s manipulating the true numbers. For its part, the Census Bureau created another algorithm that would better reflect what’s not been included. Even that might be problematic as it also takes into account things like medical costs and child care.
The poverty line in 2011 for a family of four was $23,021. And there were 46.2 million Americans living in poverty as of the end of 2011, despite the government programs. If food stamps had been counted (and again, we’re not sure why it wasn’t), the numbers would show almost 4 million people were safe from poverty with 1.7 million children included. The Earned Income Tax Credit “would have” (did) kept close to 6 million people – 3.1 million of those people are children – above poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit is the refundable credit designed for low to moderate income working Americans.
The question is, if there were 46.2 million living in poverty in 2011, why, then, are there one in four (some say the ratio is closer to one in seven) Americans who are on food stamps? With that thought, it’s easy to understand why the Obama Administration has come under fire for advertising his hopes that more will apply for government assistance. Let’s face it, the country is broke. Its cities and states are broke – and some are even filing for bankruptcy. So why do we continue to insist folks apply for food stamps who may not need them? We have an obligation in this country to take care of our own; but we also have an obligation to not become a victim because of some billboard telling us we can.
The numbers are slightly lower than what they were in 2010 but before you think that’s an improvement, consider this: those numbers are lower because the benefits ran out for millions of Americans. The question then becomes, are we cutting these important programs for those who truly need them to make room for those who don’t, but who have been given a thumbs up by the current administration?
The poverty level is at 16%.
Of course, there are political considerations. The Republicans want fewer on the government rolls, so much so that Paul Ryan, who’s Governor Mitt Romney’s running mate, has said he would like to see these benefits rolled into grants and then allow the states to manage them. Critics insist this would endanger millions as funding would be significantly limited, especially in those already-troubled states. Meanwhile, most government programs are at or far beyond record enrollments.
Not only that, but the so called fiscal cliff plays a role, as well. Housing subsidies, among many, will be slashed on January 1 if Congress doesn’t act in time to prevent the tax hikes from kicking in. Amidst all of this bickering between our elected leaders, most are more focused on election day than they are poverty in this country. Therein lies the true tragedy.
Is the system broken? Absolutely. Fixing it is going to be the huge challenge and even deciding on a new president in November isn’t going to be the cure-all. Regardless of which candidate does what if and when he’s elected is nearly irrelevant at this point. We have one candidate giving the store away and another refusing to see things in a different perspective.
What are your thoughts on this very important issue? Weigh in and let us know how you’d fix the problem.