September 14, 2010
US poverty on track for a record rise, by Tom Mellen, in: Morning Star, Tuesday 14 September 2010
The number of people in the US who are mired in poverty is on track for a record increase, with the ranks of working-age poor approaching 1960s levels that triggered Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty.
Census figures for 2009 - the recession-ravaged first year of Barack Obama's presidency - are to be released in the coming week and demographers expect grim findings.
The data is expected to expose the longer-term regressive impact of former president George W Bush's neoliberal policy agenda.
But it's unfortunate timing for President Obama and his party just seven weeks before important elections when control of Congress is at stake.
The anticipated poverty rate increase - from 13.2 per cent to about 15 per cent - could be another blow to Democrats struggling to persuade voters to keep them in power amid high levels of unemployment.
On Friday Mr Obama told a White House news conference that the "most important anti-poverty effort is growing the economy and making sure there are enough jobs out there."
He stressed his commitment to helping the working poor achieve "middle-class" status - meaning a decent standard of living - and said: "If we can grow the economy faster and create more jobs, then everybody is swept up into that virtuous cycle."
Interviews with six demographers who closely track poverty trends found wide consensus that 2009 figures are likely to show a significant rate increase to the range of 14.7 per cent to 15 per cent.
Should those estimates hold true, some 45 million people in the country, or more than one in seven, were poor last year.
It would be the highest single-year increase since the government began calculating poverty figures in 1959.
Among the 18-64 working-age population, the demographers expect a rise beyond 12.4 per cent, up from 11.7 per cent.
That would make it the highest since at least 1965, when another Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, launched the war on poverty that expanded the federal government's role in social welfare programmes from education to health care.
Before his successors began dismantling it, the progressive programme served to reduce the percentage of black US citizens below the poverty line from 55 per cent in 1960 to 27 per cent in 1968.
Elise Gould, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute think tank, said: "The great recession will surely push the poverty rate for working-age people to a nearly 50-year peak, which means that is time for a renewed attack on poverty."
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