In 2012, the official poverty rate in the United States was 15 percent, statistically unchanged from 2011. Nearly one in six people, or 46.5 million Americans, lived below the official federal poverty line—$23,492 per year for a family of four. Each year, to track the progress toward the goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, the Center for American Progress Action Fund publishes an annual Half in Ten report that examines 21 different indicators of economic security and opportunity. It helps us better understand where we are improving the situation for America’s struggling families and where we need to do a better job nationally.
While our annual report focuses on the national landscape of poverty in America, this new report follows up with a comparative look at the states. For each indicator examined in our national report, we rank the states in comparison to one another and provide some context about policies to improve those indicators.
The bottom line is this: Low-income families in states across the country are suffering from too many years of reckless efforts to reduce the federal deficit. Although many states need to improve local policies—especially those that hinder the ability of low-income families to access federally funded programs—the state-by-state results from our indicators show that the budget choices we make at the national level have consequences. The effects of sequestration will continue into next year and for many years thereafter. “It is like a slowly growing cancer,” says Steven Warren, vice chancellor of research and graduate studies at the University of Kansas. In 2014, sequestration will only get worse. The cuts will be deeper. Many of this year’s cuts simply have not been implemented yet. And the one-time fixes that agencies made this year to mitigate sequestration’s impacts are no longer an option moving forward.
It’s time to reset the debate. It’s time to reinvest in our economy and build a better path to shared opportunity for families that are still struggling, even in a slow-growing economy. Although not ideal, the recent budget agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators will reduce the harmful effects of sequestration and represents a positive step in the right direction. However, it still does not make the investments needed to get our country back on track. We simply cannot afford another year of reckless policies that leave the most disadvantaged among us paying for deficit reduction. It’s time for Congress to replace the debate about reckless cuts with one about investments in our economy and shared opportunities, especially for families that are struggling at the bottom.
Erik Stegman is the Manager of the Half in Ten campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Sarah Baron is a Special Assistant with Half in Ten.