In the last couple of weeks the U.S Census Bureau released some very grim statistics. The poverty rate in this country rose to 15.1 percent in 2010. “There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 — the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published,” reported the Census Bureau.
On Wednesday September 14, the Census Bureau reported that the number of households that had “doubled up” had increased by more than 10 percent since 2007. The bureau said that much of the increase was the result of adult children who either moved back home during the recession or never left. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 34, some 5.9 million were living with their parents this spring, up from 4.7 million before the recession hit in 2007.
What also seems apparent—even to extremely wealthy business leaders like Warren Buffett—is that there’s a growing inequality in this country. The income gap is widening. Something like the the top 10th of 1 percent takes home about 24 percent of all American wealth.
Even the middle class is feeling squeezed: in the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997. To quote The New York Times online: “It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard. ‘This is truly a lost decade,’ Mr. Katz said. ‘We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.’”
I’m embarrassed and saddened that in this country, with all its resources and promise, we can allow some 46 million people to live in poverty. And I’m afraid for all those people who are on the edge—the elderly, disabled, and the vulnerable; the unemployed, the working poor, and those slipping out of the middle class because of job loss and housing values; and the young people who are saddled with crushing student loans and no prospects for good jobs. I pray about these things and I wring my hands. It’s hard to see much hope for the future, especially since the political discourse in this nation has become so brittle and angry. How can we continue to feel hope?
What do you think? What was your response to the recent reports about poverty from the Census Bureau? What gives you hope?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.