The big [relevant] news of the day is the poverty update.
Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the nation’s poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent last year, which translates into 39.8 million people living in poverty. This rose from 12..5 percent in 2007, and is the highest poverty rate in 12 years.
The information for this recent report was gathered early in 2008, and by most accounts, the recession grew worse during 2008, suggesting that the numbers may have since inflated. Economists suggest, as noted in the New York Times article this morning, that we may see even more pronounced effects of the recession on levels of poverty for the 2009 year.
This news hardly comes as a surprise during an economic crisis that has affected so many Americans. Nor is one surprised by the details of the data, which suggests that those most affected tend to be families headed by women, people of color, and children.
Rising unemployment, a rise in the need of social services coupled with a decrease in the availability of those resources, drastic state budget cuts, and all the other extraneous pressure of the recession have strongly affected those at the economic fringes of society and those most vulnerable to falling into poverty.
This data supports the Alliance’s prediction that up to 1.5 million more people may experience homelessness before the recession is over without significant government intervention. As poverty increases, the risk of losing housing – often the most considerable portion of a family’s expenditures – also increases.
Luckily, since the beginning of the recession (now defined as late 2007), we have taken several steps to alleviate some of the financial burden facing vulnerable American families.
In May 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the HEARTH Act, which reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs and made substantial change in improving and streamlining the programs and – notably – created an emphasis on homelessness prevention in these programs.
In February 2009, the President created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program as a part of the $8 billion stimulus, which allocated money for prevention, housing, and other homeless assistance services to communities across the country. The program is being run through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Hopefully, actions like these will curtail the number of people who fall into homelessness during the recession and assist those who do to quickly find housing again and get back on their feet. In the meantime, however, it is clear from these number and reports like this that the need for improved services is ever-growing.