Category Archives: Poverty

Brave New Welfare

Source: Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones, Vol. 34 no. 1, January/February, 2009

Plunging welfare rolls were big news in the wake of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform, which limited benefits and required recipients to engage in “work related” activities. Those declines coincided with record numbers of poor single mothers heading into the workplace and a significant drop in child poverty–proof, supporters said, that the new policy was a success. But the reform took effect at a time when unemployment was at a historic low–there were actually jobs for welfare moms to go to. In recent years, by contrast, tanf caseloads have been falling even as unemployment has soared and other poverty programs have experienced explosive growth. (Nearly 11 million more people received food stamps last year than did in 2000.) With the economy settling into a prolonged slump, this trend could be devastating.

Women turned away from tanf lose more than a check. tanf is a gateway to education, drug rehab or mental health care, child care, even transportation and disability benefits–tools for upward mobility.

The 2009 HHS Poverty Guidelines: One Version of the [U.S.] Federal Poverty Measure

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, January 23, 2009

There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure:

    * The poverty thresholds, and
    * The poverty guidelines.

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure.  They are updated each year by the Census Bureau (although they were originally developed by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration).  The thresholds are used mainly for statistical purposes — for instance, preparing estimates of the number of Americans in poverty each year.  (In other words, all official poverty population figures are calculated using the poverty thresholds, not the guidelines.)  Poverty thresholds since 1980 and weighted average poverty thresholds since 1959 are available on the Census Bureau’s Web site.  For an example of how the Census Bureau applies the thresholds to a family’s income to determine its poverty status, see “How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty” on the Census Bureau’s web site. 

Strengthening State Policies for Working Families

Source: Deborah Povich, Brandon Roberts, Tom Waldron, Working Poor Families Project, 2008

As the national economy evolves, a greater premium is placed on workers with strong literacy and workplace skills. But across the country, a significant number of adults lack these skills, leaving them ill-prepared to succeed in the labor market and to achieve economic security.
For example, more than 25 millions adults do not have a high school degree, which seriously limits their chances to advance.

At the same time, there is a structural problem with the economy that falls hardest on low-wage workers. Nearly 20 percent of all jobs in America are in occupations where the median pay is less than a poverty wage for a family of four. This threatens the economic security of working families and limits their opportunities to save and move into the middle class.

States have the power and responsibility to address these interrelated issues. The Working Poor Families Project and other initiatives seek to strengthen key state policies and programs in education and skills training, economic development, and in policies affecting conditions of employment, such as the minimum wage and unemployment insurance.

Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short: New Findings on the Challenges Confronting America’s Working Families (2008)

Source: Brandon Roberts and Deborah Povich, Working Poor Families Project, 2008

In 2004 and 2008, the Project released a national report assessing both state and national efforts on behalf of low-income workers. The reports present data on the conditions of low-income working families and clearly highlight the major challenges facing America. The reports call for new approaches by state and federal policymakers and increased investments in programs that can lead to economic self-sufficiency for hardworking parents and their families.
See also:
Working Hard, Falling Short: America’s Working Families and the Pursuit of Economic Security (2004)

Hunger and Homelessness Survey; A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities A 25-City Survey

Source: United States Conference of Mayors, December 2008

Among the report’s major findings are the following:
– Twenty cities (95 percent) reported an increase in the demand for emergency food assistance over the past year, one city reported that demand stayed the same and four cities were not able to answer this question.
– All 21 cities with available data cited an increase in the number of persons requesting food assistance for the first-time. The increase was particularly notable among working families.
– Cities reported an 18 percent average increase in the demand for emergency food assistance and a 5 percent average increase in the quantity of food distributed. The increase in demand for food assistance exceeded the increase in the amount of food distributed in eighty percent of the cities surveyed.
– Nine cities reported making significant changes to the types of food they purchased over the last year because of increases in food prices. Thirteen cities reported that food pantries had to turn people away, and sixteen cities reported that food pantries were reducing the amount of food clients could receive at each visit.
– When asked to anticipate their biggest challenges for 2009, nearly every city cited an expected increase in demand resulting from the weak economy coupled with high prices for food and fuel.
– Nineteen cities (83 percent) reported an increase in homelessness over the past year. On average, cities reported a 12 percent increase.
– Twelve cities (63 percent) reported an increase in homelessness because of the foreclosure crisis. However, most cities did not have enough data to quantify the extent of the increase. The tenants of rental units in buildings where the landlord faced foreclosure were the most vulnerable to becoming homeless.
– All but one of the cities surveyed had developed or was developing a ten-year plan to end homelessness. Three quarters of these plans (75 percent) focused not just on ending homelessness for chronically homeless disabled adults but also on preventing family homelessness.

Access to Financial Services, Savings, and Assets Among the Poor

Source: National Poverty Center, Policy Brief, #13, November 2008

From the summary:
Low-income families are financially underserved. The eight commissioned chapters in this volume analyze the financial constraints and choices of low-income families, describe the ways in which they utilize financial services, and discuss policies that could spur better provision of financial services to them. The chapters in the first half of the book describe the financial lives of low-income households. The second half focuses on specific topics in financial decision making: policies to increase saving among the poor, Individual Development Accounts for long-term asset building, the costs and benefits of homeownership for lower-income households, the changing patterns of credit card use and debt burden, and finally, the unique experience of immigrants in the U.S. who may face even greater barriers to the formal financial sector than others.

Low-Income Children in the United States National and State Trend Data, 1997-2007

Source: Michelle Chau and Ayana Douglas-Hall, National Center for Children in Poverty, November 2008

From the abstract:
After nearly a decade of decline, the number of children living in low-income families has increased significantly since 2000. This data book provides national and 50-state trend data on the characteristics of low-income children over the past decade: parental education, parental employment, marital status, family structure, race and ethnicity, age distribution, parental nativity, home ownership, residential mobility, type of residential area, and region of residence.

The most current year of data can also be accessed at–see NCCP’s 50-State Demographic Profiles or build custom tables using NCCP’s 50-State Demographics Wizard. For a discussion of these data and selected policy implications, see NCCP’s fact sheets on low-income children, which are updated annually.

Recession Could Cause Large Increases In Poverty And Push Millions Into Deep Poverty – Stimulus Package Should Include Policies To Ameliorate Harshest Effects Of Downturn

Source: Sharon Parrott, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, November 24, 2008

From the summary:
Like previous recessions, the current downturn is likely to cause significant increases both in the number of Americans who are poor and the number living in “deep poverty,” with incomes below half of the poverty line. Because this recession is likely to be deep and the government safety net for very poor families who lack jobs has weakened significantly in recent years, increases in deep poverty in this recession are likely to be severe. There are a series of steps that federal and state policymakers could take to soften the recession’s harshest impacts and limit the extent of the increases in deep poverty, destitution, and homelessness.

The Impact Of State Income Taxes On Low-Income Families In 2007

Source: Jason Levitis and Andrew Nicholas, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 29, 2008

From the summary:
Poor families in many states faced substantial state income tax liability for the 2007 tax year. In 18 of the 42 states that levy income taxes, two-parent families of four with incomes below the federal poverty line were liable for income tax. In 15 states, poor single-parent families of three paid income tax in 2007. And 26 states collected taxes from families of four with incomes just above the poverty line. In 2007, the federal poverty line for a family of four was $21,203, and the line for a family of three was $16,530.