The Common Good

Five Facts You Need to Know about Poverty in America

What you don't know about poverty can hurt you, and the nation's poor. I'm guessing there are quite a few people who don't know that the poverty line for an individual is just 22,314 a year for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual. Or, that three out of four poor adults have jobs and half of them are working full time. They also might not know that one in four children under the age of 5 live in poverty.

This morning, the Center for American Progress released their first annual report to track progress on the goal of cutting the poverty rate in our country in half over the next ten years. There is a lot in there that more people need to know. Here are my top five quoted from the report:

  1. Between 1964 and 1973, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. poverty rate fell by nearly half (43 percent) as a strong economy and effective public policy initiatives expanded the middle class. Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, shared economic growth combined with policy interventions such as an enhanced earned income tax credit and minimum wage increase worked together to cut child poverty from 23 percent to 16 percent.
  2. In 2009 the earned income tax credit lifted 6 million people-half of them children- out of poverty. The child poverty rate would have been nearly a third higher without it. The credit is also a powerful work incentive for single parents as research shows that 60 percent of increased labor force participation among single mothers from 1984 to 1996 can be attributed to an expansion of the EITC.
  3. Since 1970 real wages have not kept pace with employee productivity. Since 1973 worker productivity has nearly doubled, and Americans 25 and older have achieved higher levels of high school and college educational attainment. Unfortunately, increases in these areas have not translated into increased wages for workers across the board. Only workers with already-high wages experienced big wage gains.
  4. Between 1979 and 2007 overall direct expenditures by the federal government on education, training, and employment services fell by half, from 8.8 percent of GDP to 4.3 percent. Increasing high school and college graduation rates and investing in job training for middle-skill workers must be a part of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy that also includes major economic reforms and incorporates wages, nonwage benefits, and other components of job quality.
  5. High poverty rates among families with children cannot simply be explained by low work effort. Low-income parents work more hours than those in many other developed countries, but a parent working full time (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year) earning $10 an hour would only bring home only $20,000 annually-less than the official federal poverty level for a family of four and not nearly enough to pay for decent housing, food, child care, transportation, and health care. That's why "work support" benefits such as earned income tax credits, child care assistance, and public health insurance coverage are a critical component of policy efforts to reduce poverty.

To see the whole report check out www.halfinten.org/indicators

T.KingTim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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