Poverty in the United States has grown considerably over the last 15 years, with extreme poverty rates doubling. And according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of working Americans below the poverty line — known as the working poor — rose to a two-decade high in 2010:
The number of working Americans earning so little they lived in poverty reached 7.2 percent of the labor force in 2010, the highest level in at least two decades, the government said on Friday.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 7.6 percent of women among the working poor, compared to 6.7 percent of men. In 2009, the working poor rate was 7 percent.
The number of workers in poverty would be even higher were it not for government safety net programs that have reduced poverty rates during the recession. Food stamps, for instance, have lifted millions of working families out of poverty, reducing the poverty rate by 8 percent in 2009. Tax credits that help low-income families, like the Earned Income and Child tax credits, kept nearly 5 million women and children out of poverty in 2010. Other policies, like scheduled minimum wage increases at the state level, will benefit 1.4 million workers in 2012, and several states are considering boosting the minimum wage this year.
Republicans, meanwhile, have targeted many of those programs for budget cuts. The House GOP budget cuts millions off of the federal food stamp program and could, theoretically, end the working family tax credits to pay for tax cuts for the richest Americans. The GOP has also opposed minimum wage increases, even though the current federal minimum would need to be raised by more than $2 an hour to match its 1968 buying power.