News Release

Poverty: “Utterly Unresponsive” Economy and Political System

The national poverty figures were released today by the Census Bureau.

JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN, Bich Ha Pham, bhpham at fpwa.org
Executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Austin said today: “Today’s release of the national poverty figures shows that 21.8 percent of our nation’s children and 15 percent of the population overall are impoverished. Despite the high level of need, the federal government continues to cut vital services and assistance designed to help the most vulnerable among us. Most recently, government funding reductions have resulted in over 57,000 low-income children losing Head Start services.

“Added to this are funding cuts for meals for homebound seniors, vocational training programs for those who’ve lost their jobs, food for low income families, and the list goes on. At a time when our nation needs to protect people from continued and increasing hardship, and support economic growth, the Federal government has imposed sequestration cuts and proposes further budget cuts that take us backwards. The House of Representatives’ appropriations plans will slash more than $45 billion from domestic and non-defense international programs below current levels. Funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, for example, are cut 18.6 percent below this year’s levels,”

STEPHEN PIMPARE, stephenpimpare at yahoo.com, @stephenpimpare
Pimpare is author of A People’s History of Poverty in America and adjunct associate professor of social work at Columbia University and the City University of New York.

He said today: “The Census Bureau’s annual poverty report gives us new data to describe what are essentially the same grim conditions for poor and low-income Americans.The continuing crises of poverty, homelessness, inequality and insecurity ensnaring an ever-larger share of the population is a crisis of democracy — the American economy and political system have become utterly unresponsive to our most basic needs. And this year’s report comes at a time when many are actively seeking to make it worse, with the right ramping up renewed assaults on those very social programs — Food Stamps (SNAP), disability insurance (SSDI), and unemployment insurance (UI) — that, however imperfectly, radically reduced poverty from what it would otherwise be.

“Attacks on SNAP and SSDI disguises another kind of economic agenda — labor markets matter to the benefactors of anti-relief ideologues, and cutting off access to aid or decreasing its value help to lower wages. In fact, those nations and even those U.S. states with more generous social supports tend also to have higher wages: High unemployment and stingy benefits are a boon to employers, since a desperate worker is a cheap and compliant worker.

“How to reduce poverty is not much of a mystery, and is actually fairly easy. Lots of other rich democracies have demonstrated that. Poverty is not a policy problem, it’s a political problem. It’s a problem of power. We should use the census report to talk about what to do about that.”