News Release

Poverty Jump and “Shredding the Safety Net”


The New York Times is reporting: “Forty-four million people in the United States, or one in seven residents, lived in poverty in 2009, an increase of 4 million from the year before, the Census Bureau reported on Thursday.”

Mink is co-editor of the two-volume Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy and author of Welfare’s End. She said today: “The rise in poverty in 2009 — the largest number of people in poverty in the 51 years poverty has been measured — should be a wake-up call to politicians in both parties who have spent the past 30 years shredding the safety net. The spread of poverty in the past year is only partially explained by the economic collapse of 2008 and the prolonged, acute problem of unemployment that followed and continues. Since 1980, income supports for low-income people have been withdrawn, eroded, and withheld. Notwithstanding the current recession — deep and intractable as it is — economic support for poor Americans has remained meager, stingy, and inaccessible.

“Between December 2007 and April 2010, TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] caseloads increased only 12 percent — even though a 48 percent rise in Food Stamp caseloads attests to the exponential growth in need during that period. The minimal rise in TANF enrollments is not due to an improvement in the economic circumstances of low-income families, especially single mother families. In fact, single mothers are disproportionately unemployed, disproportionately shunted into part-time employment, and disproportionately paid very low wages. The low comparative rise in TANF enrollments is due to the active discouragement of welfare participation by eligible families, the rigid conditions for welfare participation, and the rise of ineligibility due to draconian time limits under so-called ‘welfare reform.’ The grim new poverty numbers expose a state of economic emergency for low income Americans. It is time to end the 30-year war on the poor and re-dedicate ourselves first to alleviating current misery and then to eliminating poverty.”

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