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Inside the Numbers on Poverty and Income in America

September 17, 2015

“A portrait of economic stagnation,” said the Wall Street Journal. 

“America’s quagmire” is how CBS News put it. 

These are the harsh descriptions of the economic situation in America today, as outlined in a report yesterday from the U.S. Census Bureau

The poverty rate stood flat at 14.8 percent in 2014. That’s 46.7 million people. Wages are flat too. The average American household is making $53,657. It’s “the third consecutive year that the annual change was not statistically significant, following two consecutive annual declines,” according to the Census Bureau. 

Five years into an economic recovery, wages should be rising and the poverty rate should be falling. However, the data “came as a disappointing surprise to experts,” reported the Los Angeles Times

Indeed, poverty remains well above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent in 2007. Similarly, the median income in America is 6.5 percent lower than the pre-recession level.

Perhaps most troubling: the percentage of children below the poverty line in 2014 was at 21.1—no real improvement over the previous year.

The report also shows that while the poverty rate for married-couple families with children is 8.2 percent, the rate is a disturbing 35.7 percent for single parent families with children.

And as the Washington Post reports, “a yawning income gap persists between blacks and whites that has changed little in decades.”

This data should be acceptable to no one. And while the Obama agenda has resulted in a slow, painful recovery, the poverty challenge has persisted for decades. Years of the same approach have produced the same results: not good enough. 

“Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans,” said Chairman Ryan in response to the report. “Solving the poverty challenge will require us to go into poor communities, customize approaches based on people’s needs, and focus our resources on what produces results. Rather than just treating the symptoms of poverty, our goal must be to help people move from welfare into work and self-sufficiency.” 

That’s because we know that work works. Among working-age individuals, the entire rise in the number of people in poverty between 2013 and 2014 (+628,000) is explained by the rise in the number of people who did not work even one week (+734,000).

This is why the Ways and Means Committee is so focused on helping people move into employment and away from government dependency. As the Chairman said, “opportunity and upward mobility are bedrock principles of this country, and that’s why we must continue to work until they are within reach of all Americans.”