- The newly-released US Census report on "Income,
Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009"
way understates a growing problem as do most other government data. Unemployment
for one, the Labor Department's headlined (U-3) 9.6% masks the true 22%
based on 1980 calculations.
- With America in economic crisis, the new Census report
portends much worse ahead under a president and Congress doing little to
address it, the Brookings Institution Isabel Sawhill expecting the problem
to "get much worse long before it gets better." More on the new
data below. First, some other confirmations of economic trouble.
- The Federal Reserve's September-released Flow of Funds
report shows household Q 2 2010 net worth plunged $1.5 trillion because
of a $0.9 trillion drop in corporate equities and a $0.7 reduction in pension
fund holdings. Overall, total household financial assets declined by $1.7
trillion to $43.7 trillion, a trend expected to continue for some time.
- On September 15, RealtyTrac reported another disturbing
- "The number of homes taken back by lenders hit a
new record high last month:" 95,364 foreclosures, about 2% higher
than the previous May 2010 peak. According to its CEO, James J. Saccacio:
- "The trend lines of decreasing default notices and
increasing bank repossessions converged in August, with virtually the same
number (of both) - a clear indication that the clogged foreclosure pipeline
is being carefully managed on both ends by lenders and servicers."
However, they can't mask a housing depression, the worst since the 1930s,
showing no signs of ebbing. In Q 1, 2010, one of every seven mortgages
was either delinquent or in foreclosure, now likely even more.
- On September 9, Bloomberg writers Bob Willis and Vincent
Del Giudice headlined, "Record Plunge in US Consumer Credit Signals
Weakened Spending," saying:
- "A record $21.6 billion drop in borrowing by Americans"
provided more confirmation of a continuing trend. "Consumer credit
fell by 10 percent at an annual rate in July to $2.5 trillion, according
to a (newly released) Federal Reserve report....The drop was more than
five times larger than economists' forecasts. Credit fell for a sixth (straight)
month, the longest series of declines since 1991."
- In early August, the US Department of Agriculture reported
a record 40.8 million Americans (one in eight) on food stamps, a 19% increase
year over year, and 18 straight months of record highs.
- In January 2010, Feeding America (FA, formerly America's
Second Harvest) confirmed the growing problem in its report titled, "Hunger
in America 2010," a topic an earlier article addressed, accessed through
the following link:
- Since 2005, it cited a 27% increase, saying one in eight
Americans are food insecure, meaning they don't get enough to eat. Included
are 14 million children and three million seniors, and these numbers keep
rising as the economy weakens.
- The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
estimates over three million Americans experience homelessness annually,
including about 1.3 million children. Even more are at risk because of
growing numbers losing jobs and homes. For others, one health emergency
makes them homeless.
- In July, the National Association for the Education of
Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) and First Focus reported about one
million homeless students. Based on Department of Education data, the total
rose by over 40% from the 2006-07 school year - 2008-09, a number well
over a million now and rising.
- Since mid-2007, total household wealth plunged $13.9
trillion, another disturbing trend, confirming so many others, showing
up poverty and other data.
- The US Census Bureau Report
- On September 16, the Census Bureau reported that US poverty
rose to 43.6 million in 2009, an increase of 3.8 million in the past year
- the largest total since the first 1959 estimates. It shows one in seven
Americans are impoverished, the official 14.3% rate the highest since 1994,
by the Bureau's conservative measures. Black and Hispanic Americans fared
much worse at 25.8% and 25.3% respectively.
- Child poverty also rose, those under 18 to 20.7% - at
least one in five children, but according to the Economic Policy Institute
(EPI), it's one in four at yearend 2009. For Blacks it's well over one
in three and for Hispanics nearly the same.
- The Bureau computes several alternative income and poverty
measures in two categories:
- -- one based on the 1995 National Academy of Sciences
Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, called NAS-based measures; and
- -- the other from the Effect of Benefits and Taxes on
Income and Poverty series (R&D).
- Critics, however, maintain that government figures way
understate the gravity of today's crisis, and even the Bureau admits that
official thresholds were developed over 40 years ago. They haven't taken
into account true rising inflation levels; other expenses like child care,
transportation, high tuition and medical expenses, as well as stagnant
or falling incomes in recent years. In addition, cost of living levels
vary greatly around the country - among regions, between large and small
cities, and between urban and rural areas.
- For a family of four, the official poverty threshold
is an annual $22,050 income, a figure far below reality. For example, a
family of four in Peoria, IL needs $42,900 to be above poverty. In Chicago,
it's $49,000 and in New York $72,000.
- The Bureau also excludes 2.4 million prisoners, elderly
residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, students
living at school, undocumented immigrants, itinerants, and families or
individuals forced to double up for economic reasons, counted as a single
- According to David Johnson, the Bureau's Housing and
Household Economic Statistics Division head:
- "If the poverty status of related subfamilies were
determined by only their own income, their poverty would be 44.2%. When
their poverty is determined based on the resources of all related household
members, it is about 17%."
- Income and poverty estimates are also pre-tax, excluding
non-cash benefits, partly employer-provided, but diminishing as they shift
the cost burden to employees. However, disposable personal income, after
income, payroll, sales, property, and other taxes reveals a far higher
poverty level than Bureau figures, and a much graver crisis for growing
millions sinking below the real poverty threshold.
- The Bureau's entire report is depressing, including saying
one in three Americans had incomes below the $45,000 minimum on average
a family of four needs to "make ends meet" at a basic level.
- More as well from its section on health insurance coverage.
Again, understating the gravity of the problem, it said people without
insurance increased to 16.7% in 2009 from 15.4% in 2008, numbering 50.7
million and rising monthly.
- Further, for the first time since 1987 (the first year
comparable data was collected), the number of people with coverage dropped
to 253.6 million in 2009 from 255.1 in 2008 because those with private
health insurance fell by 6.5 million year over year. Included are over
7.5 million uninsured children and high percentages of poor Blacks and
- Health care reform won't mitigate the problem. According
to Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo of Physicians for a National Health Program:
- The Bureau overlooked the pervasive and growing underinsurance
problem, certain to keep growing annually. In addition, "Not having
health insurance, or having poor quality (coverage) is a source of mounting
stress and poor medical outcomes for people across our country." New
research, he points out, shows that about 14.1 million children and 25
million non-elderly adults were underinsured in 2007, the figures far higher
today and rising.
- Further, "The government subsidies under the new
health law will not be sufficient to provide quality (or even adequate)
and affordable coverage to the vast majority of Americans. Tens of millions
will remain uninsured, underinsured and without access to care."
- Obamacare enriches providers at the expense of solving
this enormous problem for most people, and in the out years, far greater
numbers as costs rise exponentially and employers shift more of the burden
- Growing poverty creates a deplorable burden overall,
as America slips closer to third world status. For millions today, it's
already arrived. Fiscal austerity is accelerating it when stimulus is desperately
needed. Yet it's not forthcoming or planned because the Treasury and Fed
won't put their money where our mouths are.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the
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