America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in more than half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.
Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest 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. Voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.
Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy said “the issues aren’t just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy. The problem is that the tidal wave of low wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon.”
Poverty is closely tied to joblessness. While the unemployment rate improved from 9.6 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent in 2011, the employment population ratio remained largely unchanged, meaning many discouraged workers simply stopped looking for work. Food stamp rolls, another indicator of poverty, also grew.
Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again. Part time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high. Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.