Last Updated:November 28 @ 05:03 pm

Under Obama US poverty on track to rise to highest since 1960s

By Hope Yen

WASHINGTON (AP) - The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.

Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.

The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.

Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.

"I grew up going to Hawaii every summer. Now I'm here, applying for assistance because it's hard to make ends meet. It's very hard to adjust," said Laura Fritz, 27, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., describing her slide from rich to poor as she filled out aid forms at a county center. Since 2000, large swaths of Jefferson County just outside Denver have seen poverty nearly double.

Fritz says she grew up wealthy in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, but fortunes turned after her parents lost a significant amount of money in the housing bust. Stuck in a half-million dollar house, her parents began living off food stamps and Fritz's college money evaporated. She tried joining the Army but was injured during basic training.

Now she's living on disability, with an infant daughter and a boyfriend, Garrett Goudeseune, 25, who can't find work as a landscaper. They are struggling to pay their $650 rent on his unemployment checks and don't know how they would get by without the extra help as they hope for the job market to improve.

In an election year dominated by discussion of the middle class, Fritz's case highlights a dim reality for the growing group in poverty. Millions could fall through the cracks as government aid from unemployment insurance, Medicaid, welfare and food stamps diminishes.

"The issues aren't just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy," said Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

He pointed to the recent recession but also longer-term changes in the economy such as globalization, automation, outsourcing, immigration, and less unionization that have pushed median household income lower. Even after strong economic growth in the 1990s, poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 percent. That low point came after President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, launched in 1964, that created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs.

"I'm reluctant to say that we've gone back to where we were in the 1960s. The programs we enacted make a big difference. The problem is that the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon," Edelman said.

Stacey Mazer of the National Association of State Budget Officers said states will be watching for poverty increases when figures are released in September as they make decisions about the Medicaid expansion. Most states generally assume poverty levels will hold mostly steady and they will hesitate if the findings show otherwise. "It's a constant tension in the budget," she said.

The predictions for 2011 are based on separate AP interviews, supplemented with research on suburban poverty from Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution and an analysis of federal spending by the Congressional Research Service and Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute.

The analysts' estimates suggest that some 47 million people in the U.S., or 1 in 6, were poor last year. An increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 15.2 percent would tie the 1983 rate, the highest since 1965. The highest level on record was 22.4 percent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures.

Poverty is closely tied to joblessness. While the unemployment rate improved from 9.6 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent in 2011, the employment-population ratio remained largely unchanged, meaning many discouraged workers simply stopped looking for work. Food stamp rolls, another indicator of poverty, also grew.

Demographers also say:

-Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels - 15 percent to 16 percent - will last at least until 2014, due to expiring unemployment benefits, a jobless rate persistently above 6 percent and weak wage growth.

-Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again in 2011.

-Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.

-Poverty among people 65 and older will remain at historically low levels, buoyed by Social Security cash payments.

-Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.

Analysts also believe that the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the poverty level, will remain near its peak level of 6.7 percent.

"I've always been the guy who could find a job. Now I'm not," said Dale Szymanski, 56, a Teamsters Union forklift operator and convention hand who lives outside Las Vegas in Clark County. In a state where unemployment ranks highest in the nation, the Las Vegas suburbs have seen a particularly rapid increase in poverty from 9.7 percent in 2007 to 14.7 percent.

Szymanski, who moved from Wisconsin in 2000, said he used to make a decent living of more than $40,000 a year but now doesn't work enough hours to qualify for union health care. He changed apartments several months ago and sold his aging 2001 Chrysler Sebring in April to pay expenses.

"You keep thinking it's going to turn around. But I'm stuck," he said.

The 2010 poverty level was $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for an individual, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income, before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership, as well as noncash aid such as food stamps and tax credits, which were expanded substantially under President Barack Obama's stimulus package.

An additional 9 million people in 2010 would have been counted above the poverty line if food stamps and tax credits were taken into account.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the social safety net has worked and it is now time to cut back. He worries that advocates may use a rising poverty rate to justify additional spending on the poor, when in fact, he says, many live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

A new census measure accounts for noncash aid, but that supplemental poverty figure isn't expected to be released until after the November election. Since that measure is relatively new, the official rate remains the best gauge of year-to-year changes in poverty dating back to 1959.

Few people advocate cuts in anti-poverty programs. Roughly 79 percent of Americans think the gap between rich and poor has grown in the past two decades, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/RNS Religion News survey from November 2011. The same poll found that about 67 percent oppose "cutting federal funding for social programs that help the poor" to help reduce the budget deficit.

Outside of Medicaid, federal spending on major low-income assistance programs such as food stamps, disability aid and tax credits have been mostly flat at roughly 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product from 1975 to the 1990s. Spending spiked higher to 2.3 percent of GDP after Obama's stimulus program in 2009 temporarily expanded unemployment insurance and tax credits for the poor.

The U.S. safety net may soon offer little comfort to people such as Jose Gorrin, 52, who lives in the western Miami suburb of Hialeah Gardens. Arriving from Cuba in 1980, he was able to earn a decent living as a plumber for years, providing for his children and ex-wife. But things turned sour in 2007 and in the past two years he has barely worked, surviving on the occasional odd job.

His unemployment aid has run out, and he's too young to draw Social Security.

Holding a paper bag of still-warm bread he'd just bought for lunch, Gorrin said he hasn't decided whom he'll vote for in November, expressing little confidence the presidential candidates can solve the nation's economic problems. "They all promise to help when they're candidates," Gorrin said, adding, "I hope things turn around. I already left Cuba. I don't know where else I can go."


Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Lakewood, Colo., Ken Ritter and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas, Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami and AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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  1. nickster99Comment by nickster99
    July 23, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    And it is just the way he wants it to be. He is right on track to meet his end goal of the destruction of America and its economy. He must be trounced in November!

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    • capricorn1Comment by capricorn1
      July 24, 2012 @ 11:50 am

      you are correct nick,i have been reading the health care law and i almost fainted on some things that are in this nazi style document,not just the money,i am talking youthnasia,rationing on a scale you cannot believe.government will have realtime access to your bank accounts and personal records and you cant stop them.o’hitler has to go in novenber or we are doomed.

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  2. effwingerComment by effwinger
    July 23, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    I don’t want this to sound like an Obama defense, but just replacing the Kenyan squatter won’t save the country. Reid, Pelosi, Schumer, Watters, Rangel, et al MUST be replaced or this coming election will just be a wasted exercise…..

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    • nickster99Comment by nickster99
      July 23, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

      It all depends on how sick the people in they’re districts are of them. And willing to vote them out! Winning the Senate and retaining the house and being able to over turn obummer care and many of the other messes he has made is the key!

      The people in California are just as kooky as pelosi! There is a chance reid may go. And rangel’s constituents are just as crooked as he is! He could commit murder and be re-elected! He is almost a shoe-in.

      We must do our part and pray for the best! God help us!

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    • MattNComment by MattN
      July 24, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

      I live in California. Most people here are NOT kooky, but I will bet we have MORE FRAUD than Chicago does. The Democrats have taken control and there is no stopping them (since they are determined to make this state a sanctuary state (against all federal laws)) which will insure the Democrats will remain in power forever.

      There is NO WAY Reid will go except when he comes up for re-election in four more years. Remember Senators are elected every six years and he was returned (via fraud too) to the Senate in 2010.

      Yeh, Rangle is a shoe-in. But most of the people running for office are not worth the time to go vote for. California changed the primary so we get to vote for only the top two people who were running for the office. That means we can vote for a (d) or a (r) in most cases. That gets us the same thing no matter which one we vote for. Then add in the fraud and suddenly my vote doesn’t count for anything. I hate it!

      I’d leave in an instant but my wife loves it here and wouldn’t move unless she was forced to (which may happen sooner than she thinks). I truly believe the answer is to vote constitutionalists into office at the city and county level to fight the orders being sent from the state and federal governments. But we the people have to back these local government folks to the hilt or we are toast. I doubt most would do that so I fear we are seeing the end of our country and the beginning of a socialist government. I am expecting a knock on the door any night now. Pray for our country.

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  3. Jim ForsytheComment by Jim Forsythe
    July 23, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    The progressives are on target to destroy America’s economy. Why would any fool be dumb enough to vote for Obama? We need someone who has America’s best interest at heart. That is definitely not the liberals/progressives/democrats.

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  4. joelinpdxComment by joelinpdx
    July 23, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    Obozo is the biggest believer in the entitlement society since 1965 and the last uber-liberal president Lyndon Johnson, so is it any wonder Obozo is giving us the highest poverty rate since 1965…when coincidentally LBJ was president. Of course not.

    Like LBJ, Obozo is trying to create as many clients as he possibly can. Mrs. Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Let’s hope we don’t run out of people willing to work for a living first.

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  5. prairelivingComment by praireliving
    July 23, 2012 @ 10:50 am

    We must, in this country, define properly what poverty really is. If a person has a cell phone, cable/dish TV, numerous other electronics and gadgets, a closet full of clothes bought at retail stores, a car (often fairly new), etc. they are not truly in poverty. They are perhaps without some of their wants. Many times it is a matter of priorities and what someone considers “necessary” when it really isn’t.

    Very, very few in this country know true poverty. While many may not be living the high lifestyle seen on TV, and encouraged with advertising, that isn’t real poverty. Read history and see what people lived like and ate in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ask grandparents or great-grandparents what it was like for almost everyone during the Great Depression. I’ve heard the stories and it makes today seem very easy. There were no social welfare programs, no food stamps, no ability to get medical care without money unless the doctor was compassionate (my great-uncle was a doctor and got paid in food for the most part if he got paid at all), no unemployment compensation, no sick leave (my grandfather got sick and couldn’t work so no job). People planted gardens so they could eat, they canned so they could eat through the winter. My grandfather, when he was well enough, fished everyday to catch something to eat…think fish for every meal…and to sell to get enough money to buy some flour or sugar. My family wasn’t unique, practically everyone was in the same situation. Check out the living conditions in other countries in South America or Central America or Africa or Asia. See what most of the people eat and what they own. Not much.

    Today people lament their unemployment compensation isn’t enough, they can pick from an array of food and have it paid for by SNAP (aka food stamps), they use credit to buy things they think they must have and then pay just the minimum. Yes, there are people living in true poverty in this country but not as many as we’re being led to believe. It is in our definition of poverty.

    Perhaps the greatest poverty in this country is that so many have lost their desire to succeed on their own, to stand on their own two feet, to turn away from the government holding them in slavery through handouts and programs meant to keep them viewing themselves as unable to change their lives, and to never see turning to God as a way to help and bring change in their lives. With this definition I am afraid we do have a high level of poverty…and it isn’t just those who fall below a certain income level.

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  6. JDZComment by JDZ
    July 23, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

    It is a sin what has happened to our country. The expansion of government in the last 60 years into our lives may have been based to a large extent on people with good intentions to help others and themselves, but like anything, there are limits as to what is practical and what makes good sense. The idea of having unemployment benefits to help those between jobs was a good idea, but this program has been perverted into a form of welfare extending benefits from 12 weeks to 99 weeks. The food stamp program was designed to insure children of “needy” families have access to healthy food, another good idea that has been perverted into another rom of ongoing welfare with now 1 out of 7 Americans on food stamps (SNAP) and which allow those getting their EBT credit card to buy almost anything.

    It goes on and on with a range of government subsidized programs in the areas of disability, tax credits, dependent care, healthcare, cell phone ownership (Obamaphone), etc. and all are growing and costing more each year. The big hitters like SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and now Obamacare are taking the cost of these programs to higher and higher unsustainable levels.

    The fundamental problem is embedded in the liberal mindset which may be well meaning but lacks any rational level of pragmatism with acceptable boundaries of what is practically feasible to afford and sustain. It is a very altruistic but fundamentally incoherent and unrealistic attitude.

    Our governments at all levels have lost their way and are responible for the sad state of our country and the elected officials are in severe denial that they are responsible. The liberals and their public service union friends have been running California for 50 years but still refuse to take the strong steps necessary to save California from a financial disaster, and California is a precursor to what is happening at the national level.

    We need a national recognition that, although all of these altruistic ideas may have good intentions, there are limits as to how far they can be taken from an affordability and practicality perpective, and that we have gone way overboard beyond acceptability.

    That is why I am voting for Romney and conservative candidates in the elections this year,

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  7. thomasjeffersonComment by thomasjefferson
    July 23, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

    You have to admit it. Obama has done a great job . . . At Destroying The Country From Within!

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  8. joejacksonComment by joejackson
    July 24, 2012 @ 7:17 am

    Obama is doing everything he can to get as many people as possible receiving government money not out of love for them but he wants to get reelected at any cost. Hugo Chavez has done exactly the same. Food stamps, student loans, mortgage support, military benefits, union kickbacks, Obamacare bribes, OWS riots, black panther voter intimidation ignored by Holder and Obama, rigged elections, no voter I.D., no Jobs Committee meeting this year while holding 105 fund raisers,condemning bankers and financiers while accepting and begging for their campaign funds, …. are you convinced?

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  9. FreeDameComment by FreeDame
    July 31, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

    Remember that every time the number of people “in poverty” in America starts to shrink, the government redefines “poverty.” The idea is to keep the “poverty level” high enough that people remain eligible for government handouts, and stay on the Government Plantation.

    Remember also that most people in “poverty” in the USA are living a comparable lifestyle to the MIDDLE CLASS in Europe.

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