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CSSP Statement on New Poverty Data and Why Policy Matters

September 12, 2012

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on national poverty and income data. The poverty rate for 2011 was 15 percent. With no reduction in the poverty rate from 2010, the Census shows there are 46 million people living in poverty – 16.1 million of them children.

However, important safety net programs - many of which are threatened in the current political environment - have a real impact on these numbers. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for example, help families with basic needs and prevent some from living in worse circumstances than they would have otherwise. Their value is not calculated into the poverty rate. If it were, the number of people living in poverty would be reduced by 5.7 million (3.1 million children) and 3.9 million (1.7 million children), respectively.

Conversely, when you don’t make these safety net investments, you also see the impact. In 2010, 3.2 million people were lifted out of poverty by unemployment insurance, which is included in the poverty rate. In 2011, only 2.3 million were. This may well be due to the decline of benefit levels, the expiration of extended benefits from 2009’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the significant loss of public sector jobs.

There is no stronger argument for public investment and assistance than the poverty numbers. Today’s data illustrate what a critical role these public programs play in either keeping people out of poverty, or dropping them further into its depths.

Simply put, policy matters. Policy helps create the pipelines of educational opportunity and the new jobs we need to build a strong, solid society. It also creates the supports and services that help poor individuals and families while they work towards those opportunities.

Improving outcomes for the millions of children and families falling below the poverty line today – or who will be precariously close to it tomorrow – means understanding the policy strategies and solutions that can support real change. Achieving sustainable reductions in poverty in this country requires a focus on building and strengthening the economy while simultaneously supporting families as they work toward economic stability and well-being.

Without these public policies, the unacceptable poverty numbers in this country will continue. And who loses then? Millions of children with too little to eat and no safe place to sleep. Our communities and neighborhoods. Our country.


For a more detailed look at the poverty numbers, visit CSSP’s Policy for Results blog on the release of the Census data.

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