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Census: Nearly half of Americans live in poverty

dollar101011_optBY ADELE SAMMARCO
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

It depends upon whom you ask.

If you are fortunate enough to be working and earning a paycheck, then perhaps you might be inclined to believe we are slowly emerging from this recession. But if you’ve either lost your job or find it hard to secure another to make ends meet in this sluggish economy, then maybe you feel we are experiencing a modern-day depression.

Just as in the familiar expression, the glass is either half full or half empty; it is all predicated on individual perception.

However, the numbers don’t lie. Current, U.S. Census data shows a record number of Americans, nearly one in two, have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

According to NJ.com, many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold, earning an estimated $45,000 a year for a family of four, mainly due to pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job.

Economists say monthly mortgage payments, health care and child-care costs consume up to half of a family's income, deteriorating what was once known as the “middle class”.

Public policy experts say government safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are often considered too 'rich' to qualify.

Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty told the Associated Press, "The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," and adds, "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."

This, as paychecks for many continue to take a hit. According to statistics, the inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000.

And as the old adage affirms, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, in stark contrast, higher-income brackets reported significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

Based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty, about 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 percent and 199 percent of the poverty level.

The latest data shows that together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.



 

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