Based on the data the Census Bureau’s just released report, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011,” the poverty level in the United States is slightly worse than previously posted, with 50 million Americans below the poverty line.
According to the report, the supplemental poverty measure rate was 16.1 percent last year, which was higher than the official measure of 15.0 percent.
That translates to 50 million people.
The report noted some change in state poverty rates, but they were too small to take away the continued immense levels in places like Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico. In Mississippi the level is 21.1%.
Almost all the visible debate about tax rates and government spending, as the U.S. approaches the fiscal cliff, involves what middle-class citizens should pay and whether people who make more than $250,000 a year should pay more. Additionally, arguments about spending center on Social Security, Medicare and defense. Lost among these discussions is how it can be possible that 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, and the cost it might take to move their incomes to a level at which they can make their own way, or even eat properly and have decent places to live.
One of the most salient aspects about poverty is that it is not so much a national problem as a local one. Poverty tends to be clustered in a modest number of states where people are poorly educated, and there are communities of minorities who have always tended to be poor — African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. When poverty is looked at on a national level, the trouble seems insurmountable. On a local level, it is certainly less so.
“The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011” will make it into the news for one day, or even two. But it will not be on most front pages. Rather, the fiscal cliff will occupy economic headlines, and the bad habits of four-star generals will take up the rest. One of the most important social and human problems will be buried again quickly.
Douglas A. McIntyre