BLOG VIEW: In 2010, 15.1% of all Americans – 39.3 million people – were living in poverty, according to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. This caps a 12-year increase in the rate of Americans living in poverty – back in 2000, the poverty rate was 11.3%. In comparison, the poverty rate fell every year between 1993 and 2000.
Not surprisingly, the poverty rate is greater among African Americans and Hispanics. The National Poverty Center reports that in 2010, 27.4% of African Americans and 26.6% of Hispanics were below the poverty level.
And it appears that a new generation will come of age in poverty. Two weeks ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that 8 million children in the U.S. were living in high-poverty areas in 2010 – a 25% increase from 2000. As this new generation comes of age in economic deprivation, another ends their days in the same state: The U.S. Census Bureau determined that 9% of the nation's elderly – 3.5 million people – lived below the poverty line in 2010.
I am talking about poverty today because I am unaware of anyone else who is openly and aggressively talking about the subject. It is certainly not being talked up in the presidential race: President Obama does not want to take ownership of an issue that has intensified under his administration, while Mitt Romney put his foot in his mouth in claiming that he was not concerned about the very poor. As for the other Republican candidates, they have become so lost within their internecine volleys of eristic posturing that I doubt they have any lingering acquaintance with the real issues of the day.
Nor is it being discussed in the mainstream media. Perhaps the nation's news leaders are numb from all of the recession-related coverage of the past few years that they are desperate to latch onto anything even vaguely optimistic, such as the Dow Jones' flirtation with the 13,000 mark or isolated upward statistical blips that are being spun into proof that the housing market is taking a Lazarus-worthy return from the dead.
For those who are not at the poverty level, they may find themselves heading in that direction sooner rather than later. Last week, the Center for Housing Policy released a study that found one in four working families were spending more than half of their income on housing costs. Affordable housing remains an elusive commodity for too many people, and the financial pinch will become more painful when one considers fuel and food prices are on the rise, with no hint of a cost reversal in sight.
Quite frankly, you cannot have a housing recovery – let alone an economic recovery -when you have 39.3 million people living at or below the poverty level and one-quarter of the population spending more than half of their earnings to keep roofs over their heads. The nation is faced with a genuine economic mess that is not going away and, by all evidence, is actually intensifying. Avoiding the issue or putting undue emphasis on vague glimmers of good news is not a solution.
The writer Khalil Gibran once observed, ‘Poverty is a veil that obscures the face of greatness.’ In this case, the veil is suffocating the face of the nation. The longer the issue is ignored, the longer the economy – and, by extension, the future of the housing market – will be asphyxiated.
– Phil Hall, editor, MortgageOrb
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