(The Blaze/AP) — The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, according to the Associated Press, erasing gains from any sensible economic policies in recent decades.
Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections, and Tom Blumer at Newsbusters suspects the Associated Press’ lengthy write-up is being released now so it doesn’t have to be given as much attention right before the election.
“It looks like the strategy is to get a comprehensive report out on how bad things are in July when few are paying attention, and then to give the official report short shrift when it arrives in mid-September,” he wrote.
The Associated Press reportedly surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.
Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest of the poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.
“I grew up going to Hawaii every summer. Now I’m here, applying for assistance because it’s hard to make ends meet. It’s very hard to adjust,” said Laura Fritz, 27, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., describing her slide from rich to poor as she filled out aid forms at a county center. Since 2000, large swaths of Jefferson County just outside Denver have seen poverty nearly double.
Fritz says she grew up wealthy in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, but fortunes turned after her parents lost a significant amount of money in the housing bust. Stuck in a half-million dollar house, her parents began living off food stamps and Fritz’s college money evaporated. She tried joining the Army but was injured during basic training.
Now she’s living on disability, with an infant daughter and a boyfriend, Garrett Goudeseune, 25, who can’t find work as a landscaper. They are struggling to pay their $650 rent on his unemployment checks and don’t know how they would get by without the extra help as they hope for the job market to improve.
In an election year dominated by discussion of the middle class, Fritz’s case highlights a dim reality for the growing group in poverty.
“The issues aren’t just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy,” said Peter Edelman, the director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy admits.
The predictions for 2011 are based on separate AP interviews, supplemented with research on suburban poverty from Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution and an analysis of federal spending by the Congressional Research Service and Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute.
The analysts’ estimates suggest that some 47 million people in the U.S., or 1 in 6, were “poor” last year. An increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 15.2 percent would tie the 1983 rate, the highest since 1965. The highest level on record was 22.4 percent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures.
Though the reported unemployment rate reportedly improved from 9.6 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent in 2011, the employment-population ratio remained largely unchanged, meaning many discouraged workers just stopped looking for work.
Food stamp rolls, another indicator of poverty, also grew.
-Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels – 15 percent to 16 percent – will last at least until 2014, and a jobless rate persistently above 6 percent with weak wage growth.
-Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will continue to increase.
-Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.
-Poverty among people 65 and older will remain at historically low levels, buoyed by Social Security cash payments.
-Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.
Analysts also believe that the poorest in the nation, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the poverty level, will remain near its peak level of 6.7 percent.
“I’ve always been the guy who could find a job. Now I’m not,” said Dale Szymanski, 56, a Teamsters Union forklift operator and convention hand who lives outside Las Vegas in Clark County. In a state where unemployment ranks highest in the nation, the Las Vegas suburbs have seen a particularly rapid increase in poverty from 9.7 percent in 2007 to 14.7 percent.
“You keep thinking it’s going to turn around. But I’m stuck,” he said.
The 2010 poverty level was $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for an individual, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income, before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership, as well as noncash aid such as food stamps and tax credits, which were expanded substantially under President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.
An additional 9 million people in 2010 would have been counted above the poverty line if food stamps and tax credits were taken into account.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the social “safety net” has served its purpose and it is time to cut back. He notes that many government recipients live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs, and that the net may be preventing them from working.
People like Jose Gorrin, who lives in the western Miami suburb of Hialeah Gardens, are now deciding the best way to tackle the historic problem. Arriving from Cuba in 1980, Gorrin was able to earn a decent living as a plumber for years, providing for his children and ex-wife. But things turned sour in 2007 and in the past two years he has barely worked, surviving on the occasional odd job.
Holding a paper bag of still-warm bread he’d just bought for lunch, Gorrin said he hasn’t decided whom he’ll vote for in November, expressing little confidence the presidential candidates can solve the nation’s economic problems. “They all promise to help when they’re candidates,” Gorrin said, adding, “I hope things turn around. I already left Cuba. I don’t know where else I can go.”
Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Lakewood, Colo., Ken Ritter and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas, Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami and AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.