The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Behind the Poverty Numbers


New census numbers show "the share of people living in poverty rose to 13.2 percent in 2008 from 12.5 percent in 2007. That's the highest poverty rate since 1997," reports USA Today in an article headlined "Census: Income fell sharply last year."

Author of Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy and the Poor in Twentieth Century U.S. History, O'Connor said today: "At its highest level in more than a decade, the official poverty rate is a grim reminder of the depth and breadth of the great recession. But it is also a reflection of decades-long erosion of wages, opportunities, social supports and basic standards of fairness for working and middle-class families in the United States. Restoring fairness to the economy is the greatest political challenge of our time, for the well-being of the millions now struggling just to get by, and for the prospects of an equitable, sustained recovery."

O'Connor is professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Senior policy analyst for Income Security and Early Childhood Education with the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Accles said today: "If this deep recession is a true test of the effectiveness of the welfare system to reach the poorest people and alleviate poverty, then it has failed. In New York City we have seen that as the poverty and unemployment rates have surged the welfare system has failed to respond. The caseload has remained steady, increasing only 1 percent from December 2008 to June 2009. A multitude of barriers are placed in front of income-eligible households, preventing them from accessing critically needed assistance and thereby artificially keeping the caseload low."

Mink is co-editor of the two-volume "Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy" and author of "Welfare's End." She said today: "The Census report underplays the profound effects of rising poverty on particular groups of women. While poverty statistics consistently have shown that women in general are somewhat more likely to be poor than men in general, they also reveal deep poverty gaps based on the race and marital status of women. Women of color are much more likely to be poor than white men and white women. Women whose family incomes do not include a male wage are disproportionately poor, as well: only 20 percent of women in poverty are married.

"The disproportionately gendered and racialized distribution of poverty falls particularly hard on single mothers, among whom 38.9 percent are poor (as compared to 18.3 percent of single dads). Partly this is due to the persistent wage gap. But also important is the fact that the social safety net was shredded in the 1990s. It's time to repair it to forestall the immiseration of another generation of mothers and children. As a start, time limits on welfare participation should be repealed immediately and barriers to eligibility for social benefits should be removed for those who are income eligible."
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