News Release

“Surplus” and Poverty in America


WASHINGTON — While President Clinton announces budget surplus figures today, some economists and poverty specialists are challenging the idea that poverty is receding as a national problem. Among those available for comment are:

Policy Director at the Institute for Food and Development Policy – Food First, Mittal said: “Extreme poverty is growing fastest among young children. The United States already has the highest child poverty rate in the industrialized world.”
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Professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Washington in Seattle, Pearce said: “What is happening at the median hides what is happening at the ends of the distribution.” Particularly for women-maintained families, poverty is increasing. “Now, 54.5 percent of poor families are maintained by women alone.”

Executive Director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, Sheketoff questioned the decline in the Census Bureau’s poverty rate announced last week. “We did not have a decline in the number of people in poverty (35.6 million), only the poverty rate — and only slightly — from 13.7 to 13.3 percent. Meanwhile, you’re seeing big declines in welfare caseloads. We are seeing basically the same number of poor people with less of a safety net.”
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Piven is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. Her books include The Breaking of the American Social Compact. Piven noted that while the 13.3 percent poverty figure continues a drop of the last few years, “the poverty rate was a little over 11 percent in the mid-1970s. We are still far away from where we should be. Moreover, this 13.3 percent is at the peak of a boom that is just now slowing down… Nor do these figures show the full effects of the welfare reform legislation passed two years ago. Welfare time limits have yet to take effect. In the meantime, some of the people who have gotten off welfare have gotten jobs, and that’s good, but some have gone deeper into poverty.”

Mink, professor of politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz and author of Welfare’s End, said: “The poverty level for a family of three is very, very low — $13,650 per year. A living wage, by comparison, would pay $25,907 per year. That’s a huge gap… Most stunning about the new poverty statistics is how disproportionately meager has been poor people’s share of the recent prosperity.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy: Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020, or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167.