Poverty in America is a national emergency. Last Wednesday the Department of Agriculture announced that 45 million Americans were participating in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. That’s 15 million more American adults than the 30 million who are currently estimated to be below the official poverty line. And today the Census Bureau is reporting that roughly 49 million Americans are impoverished—2.4 million more than the official estimate released in September. If you believe that receiving food stamps makes an American poor, then the combined findings of these reports places American poverty at roughly 21 percent. Over 61 million Americans have been left in the gutter in this economy.
Advocates and concerned citizens must pressure the president and Congress to do something about this growing crisis, but it is wrong to say that President Obama has done nothing to help the poor. As the White House’s October 2011 report Creating Pathways to Opportunity reveals, when the president was strong politically, he touched the lives of millions of poor and working people. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act implemented several policies proclaimed by advocates as effective anti-poverty measures. And they worked. Making Work Pay, a new tax credit for working families, kept 1.6 million families out of poverty. An expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit saved an additional 1.6 million from poverty. Obama’s moves on unemployment insurance kept 4.8 million Americans from falling into destitution, and lifted another 2.2 million out of poverty. In all, that’s more than 10 million Americans impacted by the president’s anti-poverty efforts.