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CSSP Statement on New Poverty Data & the Need for Equitable Policy Change

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on national income, poverty and health insurance coverage. The poverty rate for 2012 was 15 percent. With no reduction in the poverty rate from 2011, the Census shows there are 46.5 million people living in poverty – 16.1 million of them children.

The data also shows that a large disparity in both income and poverty among racial groups persists, as Blacks had a poverty rate of 27.2 percent, Hispanics 25.6 percent and Asians 11.7 percent, compared to non-Hispanics Whites at 9.7 percent.

Sound familiar? That is because there was no statistically significant change in most of the annual poverty and income data between 2011 and 2012. But the fact that the poverty rate didn’t go up shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Black and Hispanic families continue to have disproportionally higher poverty rates and lower incomes than White families. This trend has been consistent for more than three decades. While some progress has certainly been made – the persistence of inequity is inexcusable.

To truly see improved outcomes for the millions of poor children and families a more nuanced approach to creating policy solutions is needed. One that focuses on equity.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s work is grounded in the belief that no public policy is race or ethnicity neutral. We know that policies do not impact all socioeconomic groups equally and that every policy has an impact, through benefit or burden, on the lives of families. Pursuing policy strategies that take into account the existence of disparate opportunities and outcomes is the best way to meet broader societal goals. 

Unfortunately we continue to face significant cuts in the safety net programs that serve poor families. The sequester has already forced $85 billion in federal budget reductions for the U.S. Departments of Health and Humans Services, Education, Justice and Labor, among others. While we don’t know what the effects of the sequester will be on future Census data, today’s numbers once again clearly illustrate the positive impact that public investments like Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit and if included - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - can have on the economic stability of families.

The overall poverty rate can only – and will only – be significantly and sustainably reduced if opportunity gaps are addressed. Policymaking with attention to equity can create solutions that help meet the needs of the entire community, and that’s significant.

For a more detailed look at the poverty numbers, as well as the relevance to state policy makers, visit CSSP’s Policy for Results blog on the release of the Census data.

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