The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its annual poverty numbers, revealing that 39.8 million people, or 13.2 percent of the population, lived in poverty during 2008. This is 2.5 million more people than the previous year and 1997 was the last time the nation had a rate that was approximately this high.
Congress can help turn the tide against poverty by doing the following:
- Extend unemployment insurance benefits. According to the National Employment Law Project, over 400,000 U.S. workers will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of this month. This number will grow to 1.3 million by the end of December when the federal share of extended benefits ends. Congress must enact a further extension before the end of the year.
- Increase investments in federal safety net programs. As Congress works to complete appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2010 and then moves to the 2011 budget process at the beginning of next year, it should pay attention to the budget crises occurring at the state and local level and continue to grow federal investments aimed at addressing poverty.
- Advance a comprehensive antipoverty agenda. The Center for American Progress has developed a comprehensive policy agenda for reducing poverty. Fortunately, much progress has been made on this agenda, but areas such as housing, child care, and programming for disadvantaged youth need more attention.
- Approve a new poverty measure. Given the inadequacy of the current poverty measure, a new one must be adopted that takes account of factors that are economic burdens for families while also better accounting for the impact of federal government interventions that better financial circumstances. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) recently introduced legislation (S. 1625/H.R. 2909) that would accomplish this goal.
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