A report from Half in Ten examines the state of poverty in the United States. Released this month, the report, The Right Choices to Cut Poverty and Restore Shared Prosperity, is the second annual report in a ten-year campaign aimed at halving the poverty rate in the United States. The 2012 report found that, while the poverty rate remained stable between 2010 and 2011, incomes stagnated for middle and low income Americans, and income inequality grew. In addition to examining poverty, the authors look beyond the traditional measure of poverty and address the impact that federal assistance programs such as Unemployment Insurance, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit, Housing Choice Vouchers and other programs have had on poverty so far.
The report shows that in 2011, 46.2 million Americans lived below the poverty line, statistically unchanged from the previous year’s figure. Of the 46.2 million in poverty, 20 million were in deep poverty, meaning that they lived on less than $11,500 a year for a family of four. While poverty levels stabilized from 2010 to 2011, income inequality grew due to stagnant incomes for low and middle income individuals. The top 20% of Americans made 51% of all income, while the bottom 20% made just 2.3% of all income. The middle 60% accounted for 45.7% of all income. The authors state that widening income inequality will hurt the U.S. economy as the nation continues to recover from the Great Recession.
The report uses 21 indicators to determine how well the United States fared in its efforts to reduce poverty last year. These indicators cover a wide range of topics, from education to health insurance, asset poverty and more. One indicator is a household’s ability to afford housing. Housing is a critical part of family economic security. During the recession, many homeowners faced foreclosure and then entered the rental market. As a result, rents continue to rise across the country, intensifying the need for more affordable housing units. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of extremely low income renters increased by 200,000.
The authors also found that federal housing support programs go a long way in helping individuals achieve economic security, but their reach is limited and they are not able to assist every household in need. As with other programs such as SNAP, Congress is considering cuts to housing assistance programs.
The report stresses the importance of maintaining programs such as Unemployment Insurance, SNAP, vouchers and others. Without such programs, more households are likely to fall into poverty and the middle class will continue to shrink. Investing in poverty-reduction programs now will help reduce the national deficit in the long term by allowing more households to enter the middle class.