Playlist: Policy Points

Kristin Seefeldt: Poverty rate is highest in 15 years

March 6, 2013 0:01:57
Kaltura Video

Kristin S. Seefeldt is an Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist, Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy and Assistant Professor of Social Work.


My new book, "America's Poor in the Great Recession," grew out of a request from Tavis Smiley, the radio and television personality. He, along with Cornel West had decided that they were going to launch what they called a Poverty Tour. That is, you go around the country and try to draw attention to the growing plight of the poor in the United States. 
We tried to put together relevant statistics related to the issue, but then also provide some policy recommendations that perhaps even in these tough political times could be implemented.
Currently, about 46 million Americans, according to our latest count, are poor. That means for a family of four they're living on less than  $23,000 a year. Looking a little more closely at that, about 1 in 5 children in the United States are living in those households that have very low income. This is the highest rate of poverty that we've had in about fifteen years.
We also know the unemployment rate is falling, but very, very slowly, and it's not clear that workers who have less education, and who tend to be overrepresented among the poor, are catching up and getting the jobs that are coming back. Of course in the current political environment, it's difficult to get a lot of things done. I will say that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act did do a lot to lift people out of poverty.
In the absence of some of those reforms, our poverty rate would've been much higher. One of the things we talk about is providing more education and training opportunities for people who have been particularly long term unemployed, more than 6 months. If they haven't found a job now, they probably are going to need to upgrade their skills in order to do so.