A few days ago, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor because we have a social safety net – and, when prodded, he said he would mend the safety net if necessary.
The candidate has been hounded by news outlets since the misstep. The Daily Beast, the Washington Post, and the TakeAway have all pointed out that the Romney should, in fact, show concern for the [growing] very poor population in America. The New York Times even ran an editorial on “the darkening tone of the primaries,” specifically citing this gaffe.
Needless to say, we here at the Alliance are very concerned about the very poor.
As has been widely reported, a full 15 percent of Americans live below the poverty line (which is $18,530 for a family of three) and 6.7 percent of Americans live in deep poverty (defined as half the poverty line.) Half of all Americans are either poor or low-income, living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
While the last few years have, as the candidate notes, been hard for middle-class Americans, it has been a troublesome time for low-income and poor Americans as well. Recessionary times can be especially difficult for those households with little to no financial resources who suffer the same challenges as middle-income Americans including unemployment and housing crises. Unlike middle-income Americans, however, low-income and poor Americans often do not have the resources to buttress or recover from such economic hurdles. Without substantial savings or other assets, these hurdles can leave low-income and poor households facing very difficult circumstances, even homelessness.
This can be seen in our latest report, The State of Homelessness in America 2012. Severe housing cost burden for poor households* rose 6 percent from 2009 to 2010 (as it has steadily for decades) and the number of people living doubled increased by 13 percent**. While overall homelessness in the country stayed fairly steady between 2009 and 2011, the indicators associated with homelessness – including unemployment, poverty, housing burden, and the like – paint a picture of a low-income and poor community in need of – at the very least – concern.
*severe housing cost burden is defined as households paying 50 percent of more of their monthly income on housing.
**”doubled up” refers to a low-income individual or member of a family who is living with friends, extended family, or other non-relatives due to economic hardship.