This month, the Census Bureau released data on poverty in 2011. If you turned on the news, you might have missed the stories on this. That’s because they weren’t there. There was important and somber news from the Middle East, of course. But still, nobody seemed interested in talking about this new data— not the two presidential campaigns, not Members of Congress returning to Washington from a six-week vacation (must be nice), and not the majority of the media.
Unpacking the data, the numbers are sobering. Fifteen percent of Americans live in poverty, including a disgraceful twenty-two percent of children. That’s more than 46 million people—human beings—who can’t make ends meet for themselves and their kids. These numbers are far too high, and it’s simply tragic that every politician in this country—left and right—isn’t thinking about how to lower them. We need to increase government funding to address homelessness and poverty, while better using existing funds and increasing the capacity of faith-based organizations.
But as we look at these numbers, it’s important to realize that, despite experts’ predictions, poverty stayed level between 2010 and 2011. Why? The simple explanation is that government works. That may run contrary to the prevailing narrative, but it sure does seem to be true. Unemployment insurance lifted over 2 million people out of poverty; another 21 million were assisted by Social Security; nearly 4 million were aided by SNAP benefits; and more than 5.5 million were helped through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Take away those federal programs and poverty would look a lot worse.
We live in a time when the role of government is under heavy scrutiny. The federal government is deeply in debt, and state and local governments have been forced to slash human services in order to balance their budgets. Nobody wants to see government wasting money. We at the Law Center were particularly shocked earlier this year when the General Services Administration (GSA) was caught splurging on lavish bonuses and debauchery-filled “conferences” in Las Vegas—all while they mismanaged a critical federal homeless program. But as we debate the role of government, let’s be mindful that for millions of Americans, government offers a hand up in their time of need—and let’s make certain this hand remains extended to all who need it.
- Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director