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Poverty Rate Spikes

More than 46 million Americans lived in poverty last year, according to new census data released today. That’s the largest number of poor Americans since the government began collecting  such data 52 years ago.

U.S. real median household income also fell last year, to $49,445 — a 2.3 percent drop from 2009. The data shows that households in the Midwest, South and West all experienced declines in real median income, while  income in the Northeast remained stable.

On Point has gone beyond the statistics and looked at the very real consequences poverty. At the beginning of the recession in 2009, we talked with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and took a look at the staggering number of Americans living on food stamps. We also spoke that year with Barbara Ehrenreich about lives lived around the poverty line. And just yesterday, we spoke with author Paul Osterman about the realities of low-wage work.


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  • xray

    Do we blame Obama for this situation or is it all still the fault of the Bush administration?

    • D. Nicholson

      It started in the Clinton administration when Larry Summers pushed so hard for the deregulation that ultimately caused this economic disaster.  Bush exacerbated the problem by squandering our surplus with unnecessary wars and tax cuts.  Obama has only prolonged the mistakes of the previous administrations.  Enough “blame” to go around.

      • guest

        Actually, this script was written decades ago by Reagan Republicans and, ever since, has been dutifully executed by every president, Republican and Democrat alike. 

    • Yours truly

      We can still blame Bush and every other republican fighting to keep corporations getting richer taking more and more away from the rest of us. Republican politicians don’t let anyone do anything. When in government they veto until they get what they want and when they are not, they stall the congress. Shame on you!

  • RR

    Where are the protests? The status quo truly have folks hoodwinked. American poor are quiet about their struggles.

  • BP

    I blame an economy where industry feels great loyalty and responsibility to its stockholders and none to its workers.  All the advances of the labor movement are being lost.  Stand up and fight, America, for a decent wage!

  • Pierre Demers

    We all blame the government for the failed economy when in reality the cause of the poor economic situation is the PRIVATE SECTOR.
    The powerful, that is those controlling the money, have chosen to pay a few lots of money for their celebrity at the cost of decreasing the money pool required to pay the workers who really contribute value to the economy, thus destroying the market place for goods.
    In reality they are stealing from the workers. The people receiving these high salaries are extorting these high salaries as a reward for their celebrity and greed. Their contracts are still in place thus distorting the flow of money in the economy and all the stimulus, all the government spending, all the jobs creation has had and will have relatively little effect to the economy.
    The economist blame government policy because they consider all salaries as re-entering the economic flow equally. A dollar in the hand of a regular worker will be spent within a week; and if it was to be returned completely through another worker, that dollar would contribute $52 to the economy in a year. That same dollar in the hands of a rich who has not really earned it, will probably get spent within a couple of months or so, invested if found to be worth it, or deposited in the bank until he needs it. The result is that dollar is returned to the economy probably 3 to 5 times in the year contributing only a few dollars to the economy.
    Where is Henry Ford when we need him. He paid his workers high wages so that he would have a market for his cars. That is the only viable way that jobs can be created to get us out of this mess.
    The government is at fault for allowing this disproportionate distribution of our economic wealth unfairly and they don’t have the courage to correct it. These ultra high salaries must be taxed at ultra high rates, these salaries can not beexpensed when corporations calculate their income for tax purposes and that must start now if we are to recover our economic strength and lead the world.

  • Facts

    WBUR appararantly doesn’t understand these numbers when it says “46 million lived in poverty”  This report doesn’t say anything about who lived in poverty, it reports on income levels only.  Poverty is about how much you can spend, not how much you take in during any period.

    The Census Bureau and other government agencies do a better job explaining real poverty in the US in reports such as American Housing Survey.  For example they report that 43% of the “poor” own their own home, 73% own a car or truck, 31% own two or more cars, 97% have a color TV, 63% have cable or satelllite TV, and only 1.5% of the poor (not the nation) report often not having enough food. Yet the media will no doubt report that 46 million Americans “go to sleep hungary”.  

    The other myth inherent in these reports is the implied static nature of who is poor.  The Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the most exhaustive study of poverty in America ever conducted, is longitudinal and a much better measure than Census Bureau snapshots.  The PSID found that someone living “poverty” (again by income measures) has only a 50% chance of being in poverty the following year.  Only about 2% of Americans lived in poverty in 4 out of any 5 year period.  Poverty in the US is a transitional state, not a permanent one. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/utahowl June Taylor

      @ Facts:  Your PSID stats also need to be thought through.  I have delivered Food Bank boxes of food to elderly folks, who were still living in very nice homes (mortgage likely paid off in their working years) and very well dressed (my mother could make classic clothes last for decades).  Yes, there was a TV there (not a flat-screen).  How many of those 43% homeowners who had TVs were elders living on fixed incomes consisting only of Social Security, and liable at any moment to incur huge medical bills?  And saying that only 2% of Americans lived in poverty for at least 4 years doesn’t pass the smell test with me – or else Utah is an outlier on the curve, when it comes to seniors barely scraping by.

  • thegreengrass

    Can you imagine what would happen if those 46 million people all voted for a candidate who would actually work to fight the causes of poverty?

  • Eliotfisk

    Barbara Ehrenreich’s work is a factual parallel to what Dickens achieved in the 19th c.  How sad that we still so desperately need people like her.  Reminds me of other heroic journalists (as in BLACK LIKE ME or the German muckraker in GANZ UNTEN)who went undercover to report on the real truth behind corporate profits and tax breaks for the rich.  CLASS WARFARE so decried by the Republicans has been going on in undeclared form for decades.  It  intensified under the Bush/Cheney criminal gang.  But it’s class warfare of the haves on the have nots.  Let’s hope the human race can reform before the FIRE NEXT TIME!

  • Anonymous

    Republicans are totally a**backwards in everything. Except one thing: more power to the states; this seems to be the only thing they support that is worthwhile. When they speak out it’s always something inane like “Death panels” or “Class warfare” or some other such rubbish. Truly pandering to the lowest common denominator. That is also true of private enterprise. If the private sector is the answer to all our ills, why then is health insurance so convoluted, expensive and prohibitive for millions?  Why did the financial sector collapse in 2008? Really, Republicans need to put the “public” back in their name.

  • Dave Ransom

    Enjoyed your discussion of the role of media. Missed the announced discussion of Troy Davis, whose life and death point to our nation’s, perhaps world of nations”, hubris, which the rest of the news points toward but often misses. We often fail to acknowledge egregious error.With Troy, we missed the facts, failed to know, became entangled in head and law games from the authorities in Georgia to the Supreme Court, failed to realize and own the compassion, succeeded in creating more enmity. Does what I described sound like a familiar pattern to you? It might be worth your while pursuing.   

  • http://thomasmiller-phd.blogspot.com/ Thomasmillerphd

    Our newest poet laureate, Philip Levine, speaks eloquently regarding the experience of being unemployed and underemployed.  Our nation needs people who can care about psychological consequences of a society not providing economic opportunities for people to create a decent economic life.  The longer this malaise continues the deeper the despair; the darker the horizon becomes for so many.  Easy, authoritarian solutions will fill the void.  Where are the thoughtful leaders?  http://thomasmiller-phd.blogspot.com/

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