The government started keeping poverty statistics in 1959. More people fell below the poverty line last year than ever in the time since. According to the Census Bureau, 43 million people fell below the poverty threshold in 2009. People living in poverty made up 14.3 percent of the total U.S. population, an increase from 13.2 percent the year before. The poverty report is the latest in a long line of recent bad economic news Republicans are crowing about as the November election approaches. But a broader look over time indicates that conditions arose while Republicans were in power that contributed to today’s poverty rate. Poverty activists don’t think that the Census Bureau statistics paint a true picture of what qualifies as poor in the U.S. Conservatives say it exaggerates the problem. Heeding the critics, Census Bureau statisticians will roll out a series of new measurements in an attempt to more fully define the poverty level from 2011 forward.
Poverty threshold an unrealistic standard
That the number of poor people had been increasing in the U.S. was no surprise. Many experts actually expected it to be higher. Some said it would come in at nearly 15 percent. According to a Census Bureau official interviewed by CNN, a decline in elderly citizens falling below the poverty threshold from 9.7 to 8.9 percent kept the poverty rate from ticking higher. The poverty threshold, or poverty line, is the minimum income deemed necessary for an adequate standard of living. Most people think that the poverty threshold comes nowhere close to making that possible. According to the Census Bureau, a family of four is living in poverty if it has an income of $22,050.
Unrealistic poverty thresholds
About a half century ago government officials attempted to determine the income considered at the poverty level by using the least amount necessary to buy groceries. As reported by MSNBC, considerations in addition to income must be added to the equation, experts say, to figure out how many in the U.S. are under the poverty line. Shawn Fremstad of the Center for Economic and Policy Research told MSNBC that current poverty threshold is unrealistically low in terms of what it takes to survive in today’s economy. Beginning next year, Census officials will add elements such as tax credits and occupation-related expenses to come up with a more definitive poverty threshold. Fremstad said a more accurate way to look at median income and how far below that figure a family has fallen. In 2009, median income for U.S. families was $49,777.
Blame, but no solutions
Political pundits are saying that the poverty rate is another liability for the Obama administration and Democrats for the November midterm elections . However, economic growth credited to the Bush administration saw a concurrent rise in poverty. As reported by the Washington Independent, Rebecca Blank of the Commerce Department said last year in congressional testimony that in the 2001 recession, the poverty rate rose, as expected, and never came down. The economy grew until 2007. Yet the poverty grew along with it, at a rate of .08 percent. A greater share of the U.S. population was poor in 2007 than in 2001. Bush-era economics gave poverty a running start while causing the economy to collapse.