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Stepping Up Advocacy on U.S. Poverty

Poverty reaches record high

November 2010

New figures from the Census Bureau show that in 2009, the United States had the largest number of people living in poverty since record-keeping began. More than 43.5 million people currently live below the poverty line—one in every seven Americans.

Racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to be poor than whites. Both African-Americans and Latinos have poverty rates higher than 25 percent (25.8 percent and 25.3 percent respectively). Close behind, with a poverty rate of nearly 25 percent, are U.S. children younger than 5. As a group, children under 18 are also more likely to be poor, with 20.7 percent living below the poverty line.

“These figures are startling and totally unacceptable in one of the world’s wealthiest nations,” said Bread for the World President David Beckmann.“Low-income families tend to be the first hurt and the last to recover in a recession. We need to urge our nation’s leaders to do more to help the millions of families who struggle every day.”

This year, Bread members have been urging Congress to protect and strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), which help low-income working families. Last year almost 3 million children were lifted above the poverty line when these refundable tax credits (as well as payroll taxes) are taken into account.

But improvements made to the EITC and CTC in 2009 will expire at the end of this year, and they are part of a hotly-debated tax package that Congress has yet to finalize. Beckmann said, “Their expiration during a time of widespread unemployment brings the risk of even higher poverty rates.” If these credits are not extended, more than 850,000 children will be pushed below the poverty line.

In addition to our Offering of Letters focus on tax credits, Bread members also continue to advocate for maintaining and strengthening safety net programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps). Not surprisingly, programs like SNAP are more important in tough economic times. The latest available figures, from June 2010, indicate that nearly 41.3 million people receive SNAP benefits.

In his new book, Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger, Beckmann says, “Congress makes many decisions with little thought to their impact among poor people .… What’s good for hungry kids seldom gets much attention.”

But, he adds, Bread will persist in trying to win that attention from members of Congress and channel it into policy change: “What is Congress doing, and how will that affect hungry people? I’m convinced that’s a question that God asks.”

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