WASHINGTON– The Census Bureau released data throughout September that revealed growing poverty in 2008, spelling hard times for families who were struggling even before the recession. Half in Ten: The Campaign to Cut Poverty in Half in Ten Years and the Center for American Progress Action Fund have organized this data by congressional district (see link), with additional breakdowns on child poverty, women in poverty, and poverty among racial minorities.
“This data offers lawmakers a more detailed look into the growing poverty rates among their own constituents,” said Melissa Boteach, manager of the Half in Ten Campaign. “We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to advance the necessary policies to help those most in need during this time of economic turmoil while laying the groundwork for a shared economic recovery” emphasized Boteach.
On September 29, the government released the latest batch of data, which showed how states and localities were affected during the recession’s first year. However, the data does not incorporate the sharp increase in the unemployment rate, which averaged 5.8 percent last year and is expected to average 9.3 percent in 2009 according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The 2008 picture is particularly bleak for women, children, and minorities. The breakdown by congressional district reveals that the child poverty rate is above 30 percent in 36 districts across 16 states. “Such persistently high child poverty rates represent a moral and economic challenge for our nation, one that it is imperative that we address if we are to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity,” emphasized Winnie Stachelberg, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Half in Ten partner organization.
Meanwhile, disparities by race and gender continue unabated. Women’s poverty rates are above the national average in over half of the congressional districts. In 188 congressional districts, more than one in four African Americans live below the poverty level and in 145 congressional districts Latino poverty rates are over 25 percent. “Our elected leaders need to remember that behind each of these troubling statistics are willing workers and families forced to make difficult choices with few good options,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a Half in Ten partner. “We need both short- and long-term plans to help families through the worst of the recession while keeping our eye on the bigger picture to ensure that education, training, and economic opportunity are available to those who need it most.”
On September 10, the Census Bureau released its national estimates showing that the number of people living in poverty in 2008 rose from 37.3 million (12.5 percent) to 39.8 million (13.2 percent). Next year’s numbers, which will reflect 2009’s dismal job losses, are expected to be significantly worse.
In light of these data and the increase in the jobless rate, the Half in Ten Campaign and its partners are calling for an extension of unemployment insurance in all states to help prevent those still searching for a job from slipping into poverty.
“The huge increase in poverty clearly points out the need for continuing aid to help the unemployed and states struggling to maintain vital services in the face of growing need,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a Half in Ten partner. “Without this aid we risk stamping out a fledgling economic recovery before its full impact has been felt by millions of Americans.” The House passed a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance September 22 for states with disproportionately high unemployment. The Half in Ten Campaign is urging the Senate to build on these efforts by extending jobless benefits to all those in need.
And while extension of unemployment benefits is critical in the short term, the Half in Ten Campaign is also advocating for a longer-term commitment to systemically tackling poverty in America:
"These data underscore the importance of setting national poverty-reduction goals such as cutting poverty in half in 10 years. While the economy was growing between 2001 and 2007, we saw the unprecedented trend of more Americans falling into poverty. Without a focused government effort and absent additional assistance, poverty rates will continue to rise as will disparities by race and gender," stated Half in Ten’s Boteach. “As we rebuild our economy, we need to be intentional about doing so in a way that promotes shared prosperity and sets benchmarks to achieve significant poverty-reduction progress.”
View the district-by-district analysis
Half in Ten was launched in 2008 to urge local, state, and national leaders to set a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, and to build the political and public will to advance legislation and programs that will help us to reach it. More information on the campaign can be found at www.halfinten.org