We’re Failing: 1.65 Million US Households Live On Less Than $2 Per Day
It’s remarkable that as the global incidence of extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990, the rate here in the greatest nation on earth has doubled. Stunningly, the latest research reveals that in 2011, “1.65 million U.S. households fell below the $2 a day per person threshold in a given month. Those households included 3.55 million children, and accounted for 4.3 percent of all non-elderly households with children.”
The good news, if you can call it that, is that extreme poverty in the U.S. is somewhat survivable due to the social safety net.
If you take food stamps, housing subsidies and refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) into account, the number of households in extreme poverty is 613,000, or 1.6 percent of non-elderly households with children (compared to 1.65 million and 4.3 percent without transfers). So taking government aid into account reduces the extreme poverty population by 62.8 percent. Then again, there are limits to treating aid as equivalent to cash. As Shaefer said, “You can’t eat a housing subsidy.” (WaPo)
So how are these crucial safety net programs faring in the brave new world of austerity? None too well, I’m afraid. For instance, our most basic need is arguably food:
The 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits is scheduled to end on November 1, 2013, resulting in a benefit cut for every SNAP household. For families of three, the cut likely will be $20 to $25 a month — $240 to $300 a year. That’s a serious loss, especially in light of the very low amount of basic SNAP benefits. Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits average only about $1.40 per person per meal. (Center On Budget and Policy Priorities)
And that’s just the cuts that are guaranteed to come unless Congress acts. Deeper cuts are almost certain. Paul Ryan’s GOP Budget calls for $125 billion in cuts to the program over 5 years, which would mean a cut of $1800 per year for a family of three. Sure, the GOP budget is not likely to ever take effect, but it shows you the mindset of Republicans on SNAP. They aren’t entirely alone, either. The Farm Bill is once again underway and looks to be shaping up much like the version that went unpassed before the election. Both House Republican and Senate Democrat versions include multi-billion dollar cuts to SNAP.
In other words, things don’t look good for food stamps. The Earned Income Tax Credit, originally a Republican idea as it applies only to working Americans, is another story. The President proposes expanding the program, while Republicans would like to see it scaled back for some families. Same with the Child Tax Credit, Republicans propose eliminating a portion of it for very low-income families.
Housing assistance? Congress and the President agreed to deep cuts in federal housing assistance and community development programs in 2011 and 2012. Thanks to sequestration, the program is being hit by another $2 billion cut just this year. That means at least another 140,000 households will be cut off, as state an local agencies scramble to help.
So it turns out that the safety net may not hold for long. Our recovery is comprised primarily of part-time, low-wage jobs. As we lament the very real problem of Americans slipping out of the middle class, we must realize that it’s worse than that. Many Americans are slipping right on down to the bottom.