As the United States searches for signs of economic recovery, a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau has provided plenty of evidence contrary to optimistic aspirations.
Last year the national poverty increased, while household income decreased, the report says.
The number of Americans living below the poverty line reached the highest level ever recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, the organization said last week.
In 2010, 46.2 million people lived under the poverty level—2.6 million more than a year prior. The national poverty rate also increased to 15.1 percent in 2010 from 14.3 percent in 2009, the third consecutive, annual rise.
The median household income in 2010 was $49,445, a 2.3 percent decline from 2009. A family of four earning under $22,314 is defined as being in poverty according to the 2010 Census.
In Michigan, one of the state’s hardest hit by the recession, Roger Motter, director of operations for City Mission of Lansing said his organization aims to make a difference through providing needy people with food, shelter and spiritual support.
“Basically shelter and food are the two main things,” said Motter. “We do have a gentleman that works here from Haven House that can also assist them in getting jobs. But that’s pretty much all we’re able to do given our resources.”
Motter said the homeless shelter is dependant on private donors since it doesn’t receive any state or federal aid. Financial assistance is in high-demand this year especially because of the high influx of poverty-stricken individuals.
“Usually during the summer the numbers in our shelter slack off, and this year it has not slacked off at all. In the summer time we have had an overflow of about 70 people.”
The shelter has 60 beds and 12 extra mattresses in case of an excess demand for housing, bringing total capacity to 72, which is allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis. This summer, Motter said the shelter has been so packed that staff have even let deprived locals sleep in the facility’s church pews.
“We don’t know what to expect because the summer has pretty much been capacity and we know there is going to be more in the winter time,” said Motter.
Michigan State University economics professor Todd Elder said that scariest part about the U.S. economy is its vulnerability after the recession.
“Right now, three years after the recession in 2008, I think we’re basically in the same position we were in, in 1932, which was three years after the Great Depression,” said Elder. “People thought things were getting better and they didn’t, and it ended up being a 10-year long thing…I wonder if seven years from now things are going to be the same as they are now or even worse.”
In addition to the unsettling national figures for the poverty rate and household income, the statistics are even more negative when taking demographics such as location, race and gender into consideration.
The South experienced the largest increase in poverty of all U.S. regions with a 1.2 percent growth. The South, West and Midwest all underwent a significant decline in household income with the West taking the largest loss, 2.9 percent.
Asian-Americans were the only group to have a lower poverty rate last year compared to 2009. The black poverty rate, which was the worst, increased 1.6 percent from a year prior to 27.4 percent in 2010.
Although there was no statistical change from 2009 to 2010 in terms of gender income inequality, females were still paid significantly less last year. Women that worked full-time, for the whole year earned 77 percent of what men, under the same circumstances, made.
Elder also said that the economy could be the most disheartening for recent college graduates and young adults.
“It’s worse among young people than it is among older people,” said Elder. “I think there are a lot of recent grads that are having a hard time finding jobs and I think it’s going to continue in the near future.”
The pessimistic economic outlook doesn’t bode well with college students like Sarah Hogarth.
“It’s scary that as college students, we invest so much in education to earn a decent living, but the economy is still bleak,” said Hogarth, a Michigan State University senior majoring in social relations and policy.
Hogarth, an Indiana-native, is paying out-of-state tuition, which she said is much more of a risk since she pays much more for an education that might not land her a job in this economic landscape.
Despite Michigan’s reputation for unemployment and poverty among other negatives, the state might be on the right track to recovery said Elder.
“Michigan has had the biggest decrease in unemployment rate of any state in the U.S. in the past three years. At height of the Great Recession, unemployment was 15.6 percent; now it’s 11.2. So, that’s good.”
For most, it’s not the light of the end of the tunnel they were hoping for, but for a realist like Elder, progress is good enough for now.
By Tony Briscoe