BEYOND THE NUMBERS
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is an appropriate time to look at some new figures on hardship. New CBPP analysis of monthly Census data finds that more than half (58 percent) of poor children last year lived in households that faced one or more of the following:
- difficulty affording adequate food (what the Agriculture Department terms “low food security”),
- overcrowded living conditions (more than one person per room),
- falling behind on rent or mortgage, or
- having gas or power service cut off due to inability to pay bills.
That 58 percent is three times the 17 percent rate for households with incomes at or above twice the poverty line, as the graph shows.
Many of these poor children live in working households. Two-thirds of the poor children lived in households where at least one person was working at the time of this survey, and these working-poor households experienced hardships at about the same rate (59 percent) as poor families with children overall.
The food security data cover only part of 2011. Agriculture Department data for the year as a whole show that 45 percent of all poor households with children had difficulty affording adequate food at some point in 2011.
Fortunately, government assistance makes a big difference in fighting poverty and hardship.
The Census Bureau reported earlier this month that government assistance programs kept millions of Americans out of poverty in 2011, under a new measure (the Supplemental Poverty Measure) that takes both cash and non-cash income into account. CBPP analysis finds that nearly twice as many people would count as poor in 2011 if one left out the income they received from assistance programs.
In addition, six recession-fighting initiatives enacted in 2009 and 2010, including expansions in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, kept nearly 7 million people out of poverty in 2010. Unfortunately, those initiatives are expiring, many states have cut programs that help low-income families, and some budget-cutters in Congress are targeting such programs for further cuts.