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Stretch the Poverty Safety Net

With more Americans from many different walks of life falling into poverty, we need to make sure that our safety net is flexible enough to meet today’s challenges but not stretched too thin.

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Yesterday’s poverty numbers gave the nation new statistical confirmation of what was plainly evident in almost every corner of America—more families experienced greater financial struggles last year than in the previous year. The ranks of the poor and near poor swelled dramatically in 2009, the second full year after the Great Recession’s onset. The U.S. Census reports that 14.3 percent of the population or 43.6 million people fell below the poverty line—the largest number in the 51 years since the data has been published. This is compared to 39.8 million the previous year. The change is increasing demand for antipoverty services.

What’s more, the data make clear that poverty is an “all America” problem that reaches across the boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Yet some groups continue to experience the highest poverty rates—particularly children, African Americans, and Hispanics.

With more Americans from many different walks of life falling into poverty, we need to make sure that our safety net is flexible enough to meet today’s challenges but not stretched too thin.

Policymakers should focus on maintaining persistent and concerted efforts that boost demand and address the high poverty caused by the Great Recession.

These unprecedented times require continued and persistent efforts until the job of giving a helping hand to the nation’s most vulnerable families is done. We offer two key recommendations here:

  • Implementing the administration’s recommended elevated funding levels for key antipoverty programs in FY 2011
  • Extending the TANF Emergency Fund for at least another year

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