Yesterday the 2010 poverty numbers were released by the US Census Bureau. They confirm what so many of us already know to be true – that the Great Recession is devastating families and communities across the country, and poverty and hardship is on the rise. This is the reason that the Center for Community Change is organizing around the country for the creation of good jobs that pay non-poverty wages, and to protect programs that support people when they cannot find work, or are temporarily unable to work.
So, what do the numbers tell us? In 2010, the poverty rate was a staggering 15.1%, up from 14.3% in 2009 – that translates to 46.2 million people in America – the richest nation in the world – living in poverty. This is the largest number of people in poverty for the last 52 years that poverty estimates have been published.
Communities of color are being hit the hardest. In 2010, the poverty rate for Blacks was 27.4%. Children in America are also faring badly. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 in 2010 was 22% — that is 16.4 million children. These are numbers that should spur us all to action.
We need to fight to protect existing programs that help people get out of poverty, and protect people from falling into poverty. For example, in 2010, Unemployment Insurance kept 3.2 million people from falling into poverty. Unfortunately, federal unemployment insurance programs, which include Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits, are set to expire at the end of this year if Congress fails to act.
The numbers also highlight the urgency with which we must focus on job creation and putting people back to work. The Center for Community Change has identified policy proposals which would create millions of jobs. President Obama recently announced several job creation proposals, included in the American Jobs Act, which would help us get back on the road to economic recovery and should be embraced.
Finally, we need to make sure that we are building a new economy that works for everyone, where jobs are good jobs that provide decent wages and working conditions, and provide a ladder out of poverty, not a deep slide into it. Since 2007, real median household income has declined 6.4%. This is a trend that must be reversed.
Unfortunately, many politicians in Washington have decided to ignore the needs of millions of middle class, poor, and jobless in our country, and instead focus on the needs of the wealthiest people in America. In the face of growing poverty and inequality, many politicians want to slash programs like Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and for corporations. Around the country, politicians have supported assaults on the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain for decent wages while protecting corporations making record profits.
This is why we need community organizing now more than ever – we need to stand up and fight for programs that help to build a strong middle class and provide a safety net for people who fall on hard times. We need to fight for good jobs and to reduce inequality. If we don’t, what will the poverty numbers look like next year?