While most statistics indicate an average of 37 million Americans live in poverty, some statistics say that number could be upwards of 43 million or more.
In 2009, 14.3 percent of all people in the U.S. lived in poverty, according to the National Poverty Center, an increase from 11.3 percent in 2000 and 12.7 percent in 2004.
UNICEF released a report stating that of the world's richest nations, the U.S. is one of the worst when it comes to child poverty, with Black, Latino and Native American children making up the largest percentage. The U.S. ranked in the bottom third in four out of six categories. Thirty-five percent of Black children live in poor families according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
BlackDemographics.com notes that the poverty rate for Blacks as a whole reached 25.8 percent in 2009 and that a staggering 41 percent of households headed by single Black women live in poverty. And, according to the Center for American Progress, over half of the 37 million people living in poverty are women.
So why is the country still widely regarded around the world as the land flowing with milk, honey, and limitless opportunity unable to effectively eradicate what has become harsh reality for so many?
“It's not because we don't have the resources, it's that we choose not to invest our resources in terms of fighting poverty,” says Dr. Algernon Austin, director of the program on race, ethnicity and economy at the Economic Policy Institute.
U.S. economic policies over the past several decades have widened the inequitable gap that exists between the rich and the poor which has resulted in stagnation when it comes to reducing poverty, Dr. Algernon told The Final Call.
While corporate executives of Fortune 500 companies continue to get rich, the wages, work support and social benefit programs are not shared with the rest of the labor market and tax policies have favored and protected the wealthy, not the poor, he observes.
In the 1950s and 60s, the economy grew in a much more equitable fashion so income gains were not only seen in the top one or two percent but more broadly across American society than we see today adds Dr. Algernon.
The Census Bureau issues the official poverty rate threshold each year. The thresholds represent the annual amount of cash income minimally required to support families of various sizes, says the National Poverty Center. The 2009 poverty threshold rate for a single individual under 65 is $11,161, a parent with one child is $14,787 and two adults with three children is $25,603.
The formula determining threshold established in the 1960s is outdated many argue. Research consistently shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice the federal poverty level to meet their most basic needs notes the National Center for Children in Poverty. “Failure to update the federal poverty level for changes in the cost of living means that people who are considered poor today by the official standard are worse off relative to everyone else than people considered poor when the poverty measure was established,” says its website.
There is not only an underestimate of the economic crisis that poor Blacks are facing but there is significant ground being lost by what were considered middle and upper income Blacks which is pushing them into poverty or near poverty, says Dedrick Muhammad, a senior organizer and research associate for the Institute for Policy Studies.
Charles Jenkins at one time was unemployed and homeless. Now a community activist and advocate for the poor and homeless in Chicago, he says the number of people he works with range from those in extreme poverty to those considered the working poor.
It was already tough for many prior to the current economy, he observes.
Of the people that seek assistance at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, an organization where he assists, “it's grossly more African American, in a lot of cases, people are seemingly hopeless,” he adds.
As the rich-poor, poverty gap continues to widen, a real and comprehensive national policy to address and combat these issues, with a focused strategy on what is best for the American labor force, must be implemented says Dr. Austin. Job creation programs even if of a temporary nature are needed Mr. Jenkins told The Final Call.
It does not appear the economy will make significant strides for the average person anytime soon, says Mr. Muhammad. “The breadth of the crisis will cause Americans to come together to demand some changes which might finally address some of the issues that African Americans, in particular but not alone, are facing as we try to get out of this Great Recession.”
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