In the Spotlight
On Thursday, September 19th, 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States report for the year 2012. According the report, the U.S. poverty rate has remained consistent from 2011 to 2012 15 percent. This percentage is representative of 46.5 million people living at or below the U.S. poverty line.
Some may ask what does living in poverty exactly mean? The U.S. poverty line is defined by household income. For example, to be considered to be living in poverty a family of four’s annual household income must not exceed $23,550. Of the 46.5 million people living in poverty 44 percent are living on annual incomes less than half of the guidelines set by the U.S. government.
According to the bureau, 2012’s poverty rate denotes the second consecutive year that the poverty rate has remained unchanged. Median household income also remained relatively unchanged at $51,017. The relative stability of household income and that of the U.S. poverty rate indicates that efforts to reduce poverty and increase economic gains are not making a statistically significant impact on the lives of Americans who are struggling economically.
The latest data will continue to lead to dichotomous government approaches to tackling the nation’s poverty rate. Depending on the political lens one views poverty through, the data on poverty rates can mean different things. The stagnation of the poverty rate as identified by the census’ data may be utilized in arguing that current safety net programs like SNAP and TANF are ineffective in the reduction of poverty. The latest data could further fuel fiscal conservatives to claim that government spending programs designed to aid in the reduction of poverty are ineffective.
While it is true that the poverty rate ( as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau) has remained unchanged, their measure of poverty is not necessarily unskewed. As highlighted by the Washington Post, the Nation, and the New York Times the bureau’s measure of poverty has failed to account for government programs that have truly lifted a number of individuals and their families out of poverty.
The number reported by the U.S. Census Bureau may be falsely representing the actual national poverty rate. The calculation of income rates from the U.S. Census Bureau are only indicative of cash income rates across the nation. The calculation fails to take into account benefits or tax credits earned by the impoverished which may be heavily skewing the data.
As highlighted in a recent New York Times opinion piece if government benefits or tax credits were taken into account in the data, the poverty rate would be closer to 11 percent as opposed to 15. In reality, the U.S. safety net is working but it may not be working hard enough.
Direct Service Implications
For direct service providers, increased poverty rates across the nation will continue to impact the clients and communities served while simultaneously creating heavy burdens on staff who are charged with the task of stretching whatever resources are available to help the communities for whom they work. As government programs designed to aid individuals and families living in poverty continue to be heavily scrutinized, service providers may find themselves assisting their clients in navigating through even further limited resources. While all of this may sound daunting, all hope is not lost. Advocating on behalf of our communities with our elected officials can be a first step, but to take it one step further, providers can help to organize, empower and educate their constituencies to advocate on their own behalf as well. The Citizens Committee for NYC, for example, offers workshops throughout the year to help citizens improve their neighborhoods and standards of living. Working to educate and organize with constituencies being served can lead to policy changes on both the local and federal levels.For direct service providers, increased poverty rates across the nation will continue to impact the clients and communities served while simultaneously creating heavy burdens on staff who are charged with the task of stretching whatever resources are available to help the communities for whom they work.
Another way to aid in light of pending cuts is to start informing consumers about upcoming changes to help them prepare for what may lie ahead. As the Affordable Care Act is called into question by Congress, consumers may have increased anxiety about what these changes might mean for them. Helping them to navigate and understand upcoming changes can help reduce anxiety.
Are Census Povery Rates Accurate? Was originally published by McSilver Institute for Povery Policy and Research or NYU’s Silver School of Social Work and published with permission granted by all parties involved.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles listed in the Policy News Briefs are not necessarily the views of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research or NYU's Silver School of Social Work. If you have comments or suggestions about this service, contact us at 212-998-5937 or simply reply to this email.
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