Poverty data

More later, but the official 2003 poverty data are out.

The child poverty rate in 2003 was 17.6 percent, up from 16.7 percent the year before (although, as my bosses are going to repeat endlessly today, lower than the 20.5 percent it was in 1996). The overall poverty rates are also up, but it’s all driven by the increase in child poverty — adult poverty was unchanged. Census says that the increase in child poverty is all driven by an increase in poverty among single-parent households — the poverty rate among married-couple households is unchanged.

Sigh.

Ok, it’s later. This data isn’t terribly surprising — the poverty rate typically goes up for a while after a recesssion, and everyone knows that this has been a particularly anemic recovery, especially on the job front. You can’t really blame it on welfare reform, as welfare never gave people enough money to get out of poverty. But it’s still depressing.

Here’s the graph that I like to show people when I talk about poverty and public policy.

[The image fit onto the blog on my computer, but I’ve heard that it’s being cut off on some — the link is http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/img/incpov03/fig10.jpg if it’s not showing up properly for you.]

What this tells me is that government really can make a difference — the huge improvements of the 1960s are driven by the War on Povery, including the expansion of Social Security to cover a much larger fraction of the elderly population. But there hasn’t been the willpower to fight child poverty in the same way.

Which leads me to the most important news story that you won’t read in your paper — The Incredible Shrinking Budget, by Gene Steuerle at the Urban Institute. It’s about the structural imbalance between Social Security and Medicare, which automatically grow to meet the need, and programs that serve kids, which have to compete for funding with everything else in the budget. And it’s about how those programs are going to get squeezed in the coming years between the Bush tax cuts (whose costs are back-loaded) and the needs of the retiring baby boomers. It’s only 8 pages, and everyone who cares about children should read it.

One Response to “Poverty data”

  1. jen Says:

    So the question becomes, why don’t we care about the children? Is it just as simple as saying that they don’t vote?

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