Today, the Census Bureau released its poverty data for 2009, which confirms the extent to which the Great Recession has ravaged American households. The poverty rate rose from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent, which is the highest its been since 1994. For working age people (18 to 64) the 12.9 percent poverty rate is the highest since 1965.
It was almost inevitable that political finger-pointing would commence with the release of the data, and Rep. Peter Dreier (R-CA) didn’t disappoint, taking to the House floor and implying that Democratic policies were to blame for the jump:
Well, the policies that we’ve seen over the past twenty months have killed jobs. As the report that is coming out this morning is that the increase in the poverty rate has been nearly unprecedented. We have lots of very very unfortunate economic indicators out there.
Of course, it was the global financial meltdown — which cost millions of Americans their jobs — that is to blame for the spike in poverty. And contrary to Dreier’s assertion, steps that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress took prevented an ugly situation from being much worse. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, just seven targeted provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus package) kept 6 million people out of poverty.
Plus, another 3.3 million people were kept out of poverty by extended unemployment benefits:
House Republicans unanimously opposed the Recovery Act and fought tooth and nail against extending unemployment benefits, without which, the poverty rate would have been even worse.
And let’s not forget the dismal poverty record that occurred on the last administration’s watch. Under President Bush, the number of adults in poverty jumped 26 percent, while the number of children in poverty increased by 21.4 percent. In all, the Bush years saw an additional 8.3 million people fall below the poverty line. This all came after President Clinton made impressive reductions in both overall and child poverty.
Obviously, though, more has to be done to ensure that adequate policies are in place to reduce poverty. As Melissa Boteach pointed out today, Congress has two opportunities to do just that, by extending the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Fund (a successful jobs program) and reforming the earned income and child tax credits. “Between 2003 and 2007 we experienced the first-ever economic ‘recovery’ on record where productivity and profits grew but poverty went up and median incomes fell,” Boteach wrote. “We can and must do better this time around.”