Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, September 23, 2011

Increase in U.S. poverty alarms Smeeding

"It's really bad out there," says Timothy Smeeding, director of Institute for Research on Poverty. "I have never been so depressed. This report is the worst report I've seen in 30 years. We're supposedly a year out of recession and things are still slipping."

Smeeding — a well-known poverty expert and Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor at the La Follette School of Public Affairs — referred to the September 13 Census Bureau's release of the 2010 official poverty statistics that showed a significant increase in the poverty rate. He commented in a blog published by the University of Wisconsin–Madison's College of Letters and Science.

Poverty rose from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent — nearly one in six Americans — in 2010, the fourth consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. Since 2007, the poverty rate has risen from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent — an increase of 2.6 percentage points. Meanwhile, real median income declined by 2.3 percent from 2009 to 2010. The child poverty rate is even worse: the rate increased for children from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22.0 percent — approaching one in four children — in 2010.

Smeeding noted that the Census numbers would have been even worse without government programs like unemployment benefits.

But he says the real solution to poverty and dwindling incomes is still jobs: "Young, less-educated adults, mainly men, can't support their children and form stable families because they are jobless."

Poor Are Still Getting Poorer, but Downturn's Punch Varies, Census Data Show, September 15, 2011, New York Times

"'The worst poverty report in 30 years': Media turn to UW expert for significance of new Census Bureau statistics," September 14, 2011, College of Letters & Science News & Notes