Thursday, September 24, 2015

Economic Recovery Concentrated with the Wealthy, Poverty Rate Unchanged

A Response to the 2014 US Census Poverty Data

Last week, the US Census Bureau released their annual report on poverty data, and we at the Office of Public Witness wish to highlight the frustrating continuity of these data in the public square. The poverty rate in the U.S. remains statistically unchanged between 2013 and 2014, but still unacceptably high at 14.8 percent. In the Census Bureau’s report, we received more evidence that the lion’s share of the economic recovery has gone to those who already enjoy abundance. The number of people living in poverty remained stubbornly at 46 million in 2014, and there are still more than 15 million children living in poverty in this country.  Damaging racial inequality continues, with more than one in three African American children (36 percent) and about one-third of Latino children (32 percent) living in poverty. For white non-Hispanic children, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent[1]. It is deeply troubling to see evidence of such widespread hardship while the most wealthy and powerful continue to reap the benefits of our slow economic recovery.
Graphic Courtesy of the US Census Bureau

While the situation is grim, we lift up the fact that these data show government programs like low income tax credits, housing programs, social security and SSI help alleviate the burden of poverty. The Census Bureau finds low income tax credits lift 5 million children out of poverty. In addition, the proportion of people who live without health insurance dropped substantially. Last year, 10.4 percent of people reported they had been uninsured the whole year, down from 13.3 percent in 2013.

In response to the Census Bureau’s findings, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Director for Public Witness said:

“We believe that all persons living in the United States, regardless of income, race or ethnicity, geography or employment status deserve access to quality health care, and so we celebrate the increase in the number of people who have insurance this year. We also lift up the inherent dignity of work, and we must decry the lack of political action to extend the wealth of the economic recovery to our nation’s poorest. Millions of parents work full time and still cannot escape the crushing weight of poverty. We call upon congress to strengthen the social safety net as a strategy to address systemic injustice, however with only a few days before the end of the fiscal year, the Congressional majority is divided and unwilling to act.”

As Presbyterians, we are called to stand with the least of these in our world, and we must raise the alarm when nearly one third of our nation is dangerously close to poverty (below twice the poverty line). God has blessed us with a world of abundance and it is our duty to see that prosperity is shared. That means standing up against economic and racial injustice and systemic inequalities that trap generations in poverty and low-wage work. We need jobs that keep people out of poverty, not trap them in it.

Many thanks to the Coalition on Human Needs for 2014 Census analysis

[1] Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014. US Census Bureau. (P60-252)