US mayors’ report: Hunger and homelessness intensify in US cities2009 CENSUS FIGURES PROVE THAT One in seven Americans is now living in poverty
By Patrick Martin
13 September 2010
Census figures for 2009 show that the poverty rate soared last year to nearly 15 percent. One out of every seven Americans is now living below the official poverty level, the highest proportion since the 1960s. One in five American children is living in poverty.
The Associated Press reported the sharp rise in the poverty rate after interviewing six demographers who have been tracking
the preliminary census figures, and finding 'wide consensus that 2009 figures are likely to show a significant rate increase to the range of 14.7 percent to 15 percent.'
That rate would indicate that some 45 million people were living below the official poverty line in 2009. The official poverty
level, an annual income of $22,000 for a family of four, grossly understates the income required for a decent life. The real
number of people living in actual economic distress is much higher, probably over 100 million.
The Census figures are for 2009, and the number living in or near poverty has no doubt continued to increase this year, with the
official unemployment rate remaining near 10 percent and the combined rate of unemployment and underemployment at nearly
The rise in the poverty rate from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2009 is the largest year-on-year increase since the US
government began collecting such statistics in 1959. The previous largest increase came in 1980, a year of double-digit inflation.
The metropolitan areas showing the largest increase in poverty rates include Detroit and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas,
Modesto, California, and Ft. Myers, Florida.
The sharp rise in poverty is a direct consequence of the destruction of jobs and slashing of wages since the US economic slump
began in December 2007. The poverty rate for the working population, aged 18-64, is expected to jump from 11.7 percent in
2008 to 12.4 percent in 2009, the highest level for working people since 1965, when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson
launched his 'war on poverty,' expanding the network of social welfare programs.
The federal government first measured the poverty rate in 1959, registering a figure of 22.4 percent, the all-time high. Under the
impact of the postwar economic boom and the social reform measures of the 1960s, the poverty rate fell steadily to a low of
11.1 percent in 1973. Since then it has slipped back, stagnating in the range of 12 to 14 percent, until last yearâ€™s sharp
Deepening poverty leads inexorably to social tragedies: homelessness, hunger and other forms of severe deprivation. According
to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of families in homeless shelters jumped from
131,000 in 2008 to 170,000 last year. A New York Times article that reported these figures cited anecdotal accounts of
increases in demand for beds at homeless shelters of 20 to 30 percent.
Conditions in the poorest large city in America, Detroit, give a glimpse of the future for wide layers of the working class.
Several thousand people lined up at a west side Detroit church Saturday to get free bags of groceries and school supplies.
Parents with small children, retirees and low-income workers starting lining up at 8 a.m. for the event that started at 11 a.m.,
and the queue circled around the city block. (See â€śThousands line up for food, school supplies in Detroitâ€ť.)
In scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression, children carried away boxes with surplus potatoes and frozen meat. Detroit,
which has been devastated by decades of factory closings and layoffs, has a real unemployment rate of 50 percent, with one
out of every three residents officially listed as living below the poverty level.
The impact of the economic slump on the thinking of working people was indicated in a survey by the Heldrich Center for
Workforce Development at Rutgers University, released September 1, which found that nearly three-quarters of all workers
had either lost a job or had a relative or close friend who had lost a job. Among the unemployed workers, 86 percent had cut
back their family's spending, 63 percent had spent down retirement saving accounts, and 60 percent had been forced to
borrow money from family or friends.
Perhaps most significant were the political conclusions that those interviewed were beginning to draw:
More than two-thirds expected the economic slump to continue or worsen in 2011.
More than half, 56 percent, thought the US economy has undergone a fundamental and lasting change, rather than a
More than half, 54 percent, supported increasing the federal deficit to fund programs to directly create jobs, a figure that rose
to 77 percent among the unemployed.
Asked whom they trusted to manage the economy, only 23 percent chose President Obama and even fewer, 19 percent,
chose his Republican opponents in Congress. Nearly half, 45 percent, trusted neither.
Such figures give a glimpse of the enormous social and political gulf that has opened up in America, between the wealthy elite at
the top --which controls both the Democratic and Republican parties -- and the working people who constitute the vast
majority of the population, but are entirely unrepresented in the existing two-party system.
The comparisons between the current poverty rate and that in 1965, when Johnson launched his abortive â€śwar on poverty,
demonstrate how far to the right the official political consensus has moved. No Democratic or Republican politician today
proposes even the slightest gesture to alleviate the growth of poverty and social misery, let alone a serious mobilization of
When President Obama was asked about the growth of poverty during his Friday morning press conference, he responded
with words taken directly from a right-wing Republican, Ronald Reagan, who declared that the best anti-poverty program was
a job (meaning that nothing should be done to assist those for whom the capitalist system could not provide employment).
Obama's new top economic adviser, Austin Goolsbee, reiterated this stand during interviews on several Sunday morning
television programs. He told the ABC program This Week that unemployment was going 'to stay high,' adding, 'I don't anticipate it coming down rapidly.'
When interviewer Christiane Amanpour asked him directly about the new report on the poverty rate rising to 15 percent, back to 1960 levels, which led to the national war on poverty, Goolsbee dismissed the implicit comparison.
"I think the number one thing you can do to address poverty also is the way you address unemployment and the way you
address the squeeze of the middle class, that is get the economy growing and get people back to work," he said. Underscoring
the subservience of the Obama administration to big business, he concluded, Let's get the private sector stood up so that they can, you know, carry us out of this."
This perspective underscores the current wrangling between the White House and congressional Republicans, over how many
hundreds of billions of dollars should be handed over to big business and the super-rich.
The Obama administration is proposing a package of business tax breaks worth a reported $200 billion over the next two
years. The Republicans are holding out for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which would pump an additional
$780 billion into the pockets of the financial aristocracy.
Neither big business party proposes any policies to directly create jobs for the unemployed, such as a major expansion of
public works, to provide emergency relief for the growing numbers of poor and unemployed, or to alleviate the mounting
scourges of utility shutoffs, homelessness and hunger.
TREND STARTED BEFORE RECESSION
By Debra Watson
The number of people hungry and homeless in US cities rose dramatically again, according to the annual report on hunger and homelessness from the US Conference of Mayors.The 23-city Hunger and Homelessness Survey was released in late December 2007.
Requests for emergency food increased in four of every five cities. Among 15 cities with quantifying data, the median increase in requests for food was 10 percent and in some cities it was much higher. Detroit and some other cities reported seeing more working poor among those seeking food.
In Detroit, emergency food requests shot up 35 percent over the 12-month period ending in October. Officials there noted that “due to a lack of resources, emergency food assistance facilities have had to reduce the number of days and/or hours of operation.”
Thirteen of 19 survey cities reported they could not meet the demand for emergency food. Los Angeles was one of the major cities reporting difficulties in serving the growing need.
An official in LA said: “Emergency food assistance facilities have to turn away people. According to the LA Regional Foodbank, over 30 percent of their food pantries have had to turn clients away and pantries that don’t turn clients away are providing less food.
“In 2002, a food pantry would provide an average of eight to ten different USDA commodities per distribution. This holiday season, food pantries are providing three USDA commodities. Food pantries are tasked to serve more clients with the same amount of resources they had six years ago. Twenty-one percent of overall demand for emergency food assistance goes unmet.”
Across all cities, an average of 15 percent of families with children looking for emergency food must be turned away. Nine in 10 of the cities sampled for details on the urban hunger crisis say they expect increases in food requests next year.
City officials said specific factors exacerbating hunger over the past year were the foreclosure crisis, the high prices of food and gasoline, and the lack of affordable housing. Decreased social benefits such as public assistance and the eroding value of food stamps were also listed as particularly acute problems. Lack of donated food and commodities and insufficient funding were listed as the most important reason for turning away the hungry.
Economic issues such as unemployment and poverty along with high housing and medical costs were most cited by responding cities as the major causes of chronic hunger. Substance abuse and mental illness were the least cited.
In 20 of the cities included in the survey, 193,183 people had stays in emergency shelters and/or transitional housing in the past year. The average duration was six months for families and five months for individuals, down from eight months last year.
The mayors’ survey statistics capture unduplicated stays in city temporary housing facilities, meaning if shelter was provided, a stay lasting weeks or months would be counted as just one unduplicated stay.
The survey found that nearly one in four unduplicated shelter stays were by members of family groups. The ratio of family members to singles was found to be roughly equal in homeless counts compiled elsewhere that document sheltered homeless on any given individual night.
In general, cities reported actual increases in households with children in their transitional or emergency housing over the past year. Nine in 10 cities said that more permanent housing was needed to mediate the problem of homelessness.
Thousands of beds to house the homeless were added in the surveyed cities, yet half the cities reported they turn people away some or all of the time. In Phoenix, 7,000 to 10,000 are homeless on any given night and 3,000 cannot be sheltered due to lack of beds.
Individual city profiles come from the broad range of US cities that participate in the report. They have widely different average per capita incomes and are located in various parts of the country. For example, Santa Monica, California, a city of 83,000 with a per capita income of $58,000, reports 728 singles and 142 households with children were sheltered homeless in 2007. In contrast, Philadelphia, with a population of 1.4 million and a poverty rate of 23 percent, reports 8,103 individuals and 5,300 households with children in this category.
These profiles show only those individuals that find shelter. Miami, a city of 360,000, reported only 735 families and 365 individuals were in sheltered housing for some duration during the past year. Des Moines, a city half the size of Miami but in a much colder climate, reported 3,632 families and 2,436 individuals were sheltered homeless in 2007.
Limitations in reporting
Twenty-three cities whose mayors are members of the US Conference of Mayors Task force on Hunger and Homelessness contributed in some form to the report for the year ending October 30.
The City Profiles section of the survey includes various reports of band-aid programs undertaken by city administrations that admittedly fall far short of need. More importantly, taken together, these local reports detailing city-by-city conditions are more valuable in providing some insight into the problems of hunger and homelessness that is largely absent from political discourse in the US. The statistics on hunger and homelessness are far more current when compared to official government reports that rely on much older data.
A section in the report entitled “Limitations of this Study” points to efforts under way this year or planned for the future to gather more precise data. This is apparently in response to right-wing critics who have impugned the value of the report in previous years, claiming it was not a representative sample and overstated the extent of poverty. This response by the study’s authors ignores the real reason for these critics’ discomfort—the desire to limit any light being shed on the twin scourges of hunger and homelessness characteristic of the social landscape of US cities.
The study was first conceived by Democratic mayors as urban populations were hit by federal budget cuts under the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. The year-to-year comparison chart at the end of the report has been a veritable misery index, right through the Clinton and the Bush years, showing double-digit increases almost every year in requests for emergency food and shelter. Yet for reasons not stated, the appendix with the 16-year historical chart comparing year-to-year survey results is omitted this year.
Another glaring omission shows one way the report underestimates of the seriousness of the social crisis in America. New Orleans is not included in the survey, and data from that city has been left out of the report since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
NOTE: This second article was a report from 2007, so it's a year BEFORE anyone knew we were in a WALL STREET CRASH, RECESSION, JOBLESSNESS PEAK. Imagine what it is today
2009 STATISTICS (it looks back at that year)
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