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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

January 9, 2014 at 10:39 AM

One in three Americans fell below poverty line between 2009 and 2011

This week’s Census news: One in three of our fellow citizens slipped below the federal poverty line of $15,000 between 2009 and 2011. It is another sign of the working poor’s plight in the aftermath of the Great Recession and ongoing economic turmoil.

The data are complicated. For example, only 3.5 percent of the American people remained below the line for that entire period. But 31.6 percent fell below it for at least two months. Many people live and work on the edge.

Poverty is worse after the recession. Before the start of the downturn, the “episodic” cohort — those falling below the poverty line for short stretches — was 27.1 percent. The “chronic” group is 3 percent.

A recent study from Columbia University looks at a more comprehensive measure of poverty, finding that people below the poverty line has fallen from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent today. That’s thanks to food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment insurance. Child poverty fell even more dramatically.

For all the myths of “welfare queens,” the reality of living near or under the brink is dismal (even more so after “welfare as we know it” was done away with in the Clinton years). Most are white. A large number are the working poor, some holding down two jobs.

Poverty is closely tied to changes in the economy that have taken away jobs for the low skilled that allowed them to gain skills and rise. The economy is 8 million jobs short. Wages are stagnant. Incomes for most have barely risen in decades.

Until the policies that helped cause this situation change, we can expect further tragedies.

And Don’t Miss: The war on poverty at 50 | Jared Bernstein

Today’s Econ Haiku:

T-Mobile’s rockin’

Too bad bosses want to roll

Into a merger

Comments | More in Poverty

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