Conservative media have baselessly claimed that President Obama's policies are to blame for a new Census Report finding an increase in poverty in the United States. In fact, the Census Bureau itself states that unemployment benefits -- extended under the Obama administration -- helped limit the number of people in poverty, and experts concur that without "extend[ed] unemployment compensation, stimulus spending and Obama's health reforms," the poverty levels would have been worse.
Conservative Media Use Census Data To Claim Obama's Policies Are Hurting The Poor
New Census Report Shows That 2.6 Million More People Fell Into Poverty. From a New York Times article on the new Census Bureau report:
Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.
And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997.
Economists pointed to a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard. [The New York Times, 9/13/11]
- Census Report Found That The Poverty Rate Increased To "15.1 Percent -- Up From 14.3 Percent In 2009." [U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, 09/11]
Lou Dobbs On Census Report: "What In The World Is This Administration Doing" Because "[Obama's] Practices Aren't Working." In a round-table discussion on the new census data regarding poverty, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs stated: "What in the world is this administration doing?" He then added: "You would think that this president would begin to demonstrate that his practices aren't working." From Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: Let's turn to one aspect of what is dominating the day's coverage and that is this poverty rate. This administration files -- puts forward a speech on jobs two-and-a-half years into his administration. Secondly, the same day as he is waving the Jobs Act around, Bank of America is announcing it's laying off more than 30,000 people, and today we have the poverty rate at 15.1 percent -- the highest since 1993. What in the world is this administration doing?
DOBBS: You would think that this president would begin to demonstrate that his practices aren't working.
JOYCE KAUFMAN (radio talk show host): And it's just the opposite Lou. He continues down the same path. It doesn't matter to him whether or not the American people support him. It doesn't matter to him whether or not he is getting approval ratings. He's on a mission. And anybody who doesn't believe that -- today, they were floating -- or this weekend in The New York Times -- maybe a one-term presidency would be OK. He's lost Maureen Dowd. You know that when you lose Maureen Dowd it's like Walter Cronkite and the Vietnam War is over. [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 9/13/11]
Wash. Times: This Is "Obama's Poverty Problem" And "The Blame Lies Squarely On Mr. Obama's Policies." From a Washington Times editorial headlined "Obama's poverty problem":
America is a poorer country under President Obama. Since last year, the ranks of America's least well off grew by 2.5 million, according to the government definition of poverty, which includes a family with income of less than $22,314 a year or an individual making less than $11,139. One-sixth of the country, 46.2 million, met this standard, according to figures released Tuesday. That's the highest total since the Census Bureau began keeping track a half-century ago.
The blame lies squarely on Mr. Obama's policies, which have strangled the productive sector. The economy is moving, but barely so. Gross domestic product edged forward at a dismal 1 percent rate in the second quarter. Financial experts have been busy revising forecasts downward, with the National Association of Business Economists expecting the year to end with growth totaling a lackluster 1.5 percent.
Rather than cultivate the American dream of hard work and free enterprise, the White House is obsessed with reviving the failed redistributionist policies of the past. The American Jobs Act is nothing more than a Keynesian stimulus package recycled from the Jimmy Carter era. The scheme will generate more debt while crushing the private sector - where jobs are created - with higher taxes. That's not what the economy needs right now. It's time to roll back Mr. Obama's tax, regulate, borrow and spend agenda. Focusing on creating a competitive and innovative business climate is the only sure strategy for winning the war on poverty. [The Washington Times, 9/14/11]
Fox's James Rosen: Obama "Created Expectations That His Policies Would Improve Poverty Levels" But "That Hasn't Happened." From the September 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
BRET BAIER (host): Americans living in poverty is at a record level. That's the takeaway from a new Census Bureau report. Chief Washington correspondent James Rosen looks at the numbers and what they mean.
JAMES ROSEN (Fox News chief Washington correspondent): So let's start with the worse news: 46.2 million Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, now live below the poverty line defined roughly as an annual income of $22,000 for a family of four. It's the highest number of impoverished Americans ever recorded in the 52 years this data has been published. And the 15.1 percent of the U.S. population it represents marks the highest percentage seen since 1983.
ROSEN: But when President Obama signed the stimulus into law two-and-a-half years ago, he created expectations that his policies would improve poverty levels.
OBAMA (video clip): It's a plan that rewards responsibility, lifting 2 million Americans from poverty.
ROSEN: That hasn't happened and today's data will likely intensify the debate over those policies in 2012.
MARC MORIAL (CEO, National Urban League): It's not completely Obama's economy because the recession that we've been struggling with as a nation began and really festered before he took office.
RON HASKINS (Brookings Institution senior fellow and former senior advisor to President George W. Bush): Almost everybody agrees that at some point the economy is Obama's. At some point it doesn't work anymore to say it's the fault of the Bush administration. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 9/13/11]
Census Report Says That Unemployment Benefits Prevented 3.2 Million People From Falling Into Poverty
Census Report: "If Unemployment Insurance Benefits Were Excluded From Money Income, 3.2 Million More People Would Be Counted As Poor In 2010." Using a Web-based tool to determine how a "single resource element" could impact poverty levels, the Census Bureau calculated that unemployment benefits prevented 3.2 million Americans from falling into poverty in 2010. It also found that the federal income tax credit "reduce[d] the number of children classified as poor in 2010 by 3.0 million." From the U.S. Census Bureau:
CPS Table Creator II is a Web-based tool designed to help researchers explore alternative income and poverty measures. The tool is available from a link on the Census Bureau's poverty Web site, <www.census.gov /hhes/www/cpstc/apm/cpstc_altpov .html>. Table Creator II allows researchers to produce poverty and income estimates using their own combinations of threshold and resource definitions and to see the incremental impact of the addition or subtraction of a single resource element. For example:
• Taking into account the value of the federal earned income tax credit would reduce the number of children classified as poor in 2010 by 3.0 million.
• In 2010, the number of people aged 65 and older in poverty would be higher by almost 14 million if social security payments were excluded from money income, quintupling the number of elderly people in poverty.
• If unemployment insurance benefits were excluded from money income, 3.2 million more people would be counted as poor in 2010. [U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, 09/11]
Other Experts Also State That Policies Under Obama Prevented Poverty Numbers From Being Worse
CBPP: Federal Programs Implemented And Extended Under Obama Have Saved Millions From Poverty. In a statement, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein highlighted how federal programs have saved millions of Americans from falling into poverty. Greenstein stated: "[E]nactment of a significant federal jobs package, such as the proposals President Obama outlined on September 8, would likely help reduce poverty while the economy remains weak as well as bolster economic and job growth." From the CBPP:
Today's Census report shows that in 2010, the share of all Americans and the share of children living in poverty, the number and share of people living in "deep poverty," and the number without health insurance all reached their highest level in many years -- in some cases, in several decades -- while median household income fell significantly after adjusting for inflation. The data also show that many of these grim figures and the level of hardship would have been much worse if not for key federal programs such as unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and Medicaid. Without unemployment insurance, for instance, 3.2 million more Americans would have fallen into poverty, Census said. All of that raises the stakes for the decisions that President Obama and Congress will make in coming months about whether to extend initiatives that were designed to address hardship during the recession, as well as whether to abide by a principle that the Bowles-Simpson commission report established that deficit-reduction plans should not increase poverty and thus should shield basic low-income assistance programs.
The Role of Public Programs in Lessening Poverty and the Lack of Health Insurance
The Census figures show that millions more Americans would have fallen into poverty or become uninsured if not for programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Medicaid, which could face substantial cuts at federal and state levels. As noted, the Census figures show that unemployment benefits -- including federal benefits scheduled to expire at the end of this year and state benefits that a number of states have recently cut back -- kept 3.2 million people above the poverty line in 2010. While the official poverty measure does not count the Earned Income Tax Credit or SNAP (food stamp) benefits as income, the Census Bureau also reported today that if the EITC were counted, it would be shown to lift 5.4 million people (including 3 million children) out of poverty and that if SNAP were counted, it would be found to lift 3.9 million people out. These benefits are counted under an alternative measure of poverty that many analysts favor and that the Census Bureau will issue later this year.
In addition, while the number of uninsured people overall grew in 2010 due principally to continued erosion in employer-based health coverage, children escaped this trend because Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) filled the gap. Both the number and the percentage of children who were uninsured was actually lower in 2010 than in 2007, before the economic downturn started, because Medicaid and CHIP expanded and more than offset the loss of employer coverage among children. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of children with employer-based coverage fell by 3.4 million, but a larger number of children gained coverage through Medicaid or CHIP. Some 570,000 fewer children were uninsured in 2010 than in 2007.
Among non-elderly adults, by contrast, the number of uninsured was 6.3 million greater in 2010 than in 2007, in significant part because Medicaid eligibility rules are far more restrictive for non-elderly adults than for children. These data underscore the importance of implementing the Affordable Care Act reforms scheduled to take effect in 2014, which are designed to make coverage available and affordable to people who don't have employer-based insurance. Indeed, the new data suggest that the health reform law may already be having a positive effect on coverage; the requirement that health insurers cover adult dependent children up to age 26 likely contributed to the significant reduction in the number and percentage of young adults age 19-25 without health insurance between 2009 and 2010. This is the only age group of non-elderly adults for which the percentage without insurance declined between 2009 and 2010.
In addition, various federal initiatives to promote job growth and ease poverty and hardship during the recession have expired or are slated to do so soon. The TANF Emergency Fund, which supported roughly a quarter-million subsidized jobs for low-income parents and youth, expired in September 2010, and federal unemployment benefits for jobless workers who have been looking for work for more than half a year (which currently serve 3.6 million such workers) are scheduled to expire at the end of December.
At the state level, legislators have implemented some of the harshest cuts in recent history for vulnerable families. In 2011, a number of states cut cash assistance deeply or ended it entirely for many families that already live far below the poverty line. Numerous states are also cutting child care and other work-related assistance, which will make it harder for some poor parents with jobs to retain them. Ten states have taken steps to cut regular state unemployment benefits, as well.
Finally, enactment of a significant federal jobs package, such as the proposals President Obama outlined on September 8, would likely help reduce poverty while the economy remains weak as well as bolster economic and job growth. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Statement by Robert Greenstein, President, on Census' 2010 Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance Data, 9/13/11]
Paul Krugman: "The Affordable Care Act Ha[s] Helped Hundreds Of Thousands Of Young Adults Retain Insurance." In a post on his New York Times blog "Conscience of a Liberal," Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote:
Crucially, of course, the [Census] report documents the vast human damage being inflicted by a weak economy. It also documents the ways in which safety-net programs have at least mitigated that damage -- notably, uninsurance among children has actually fallen thanks to SCHIP and Medicaid, unemployment insurance has literally kept millions above the poverty line, and the early features of the Affordable Care Act have helped hundreds of thousands of young adults retain insurance. We'll have a fuller read on this, with the effects of food stamps and other in-kind benefits, next month.
But what struck me is the extent to which the suffering didn't begin with the slump -- many measures of pain were rising right through the "Bush boom", and have merely continued that rise. [The New York Times, 9/14/11]
CBO: Unemployment Benefits Prevented A Higher Poverty Rate In 2009 And Their Extension Increased Employment. In a 2010 report titled "Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Family Income of the Unemployed," the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the impact of unemployment benefits on poverty in 2009. The report stated: "Without the financial support provided to families by UI benefits and under an assumption of no change in employment or other sources of income associated with the absence of that support, the poverty rate and related indicators of financial hardship would have been higher in 2009 than they actually were." It also added: "In CBO's assessment, the extensions of unemployment insurance benefits in the past few years increased both employment and participation in the labor force over what they would otherwise have been in 2009." From the CBO:
In 2009, about 14 percent of families had income below the federal poverty threshold; those families received about 8 percent of total UI benefits paid out during the year. In contrast, 67 percent of families in 2009 had income more than twice the poverty threshold; those families received about 70 percent of total UI benefits. The higher-income families received a larger share of benefits for several reasons: because only people with sufficient recent work histories qualify for benefits, benefit levels rise with previous earnings, and receiving benefits tends to push families into higher income groups.
Without the financial support provided to families by UI benefits and under an assumption of no change in employment or other sources of income associated with the absence of that support, the poverty rate and related indicators of financial hardship would have been higher in 2009 than they actually were. For instance, in 2009 the poverty rate was 14.3 percent, whereas without UI benefits and with no behavioral responses taken into account, it would have been 15.4 percent.
In CBO's assessment, the extensions of unemployment insurance benefits in the past few years increased both employment and participation in the labor force over what they would otherwise have been in 2009. [Congressional Budget Office, "Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Family Income of the Unemployed", 11/17/10]
Reuters: Analysts Say "The [Poverty] Numbers Would Have Been Worse," If Not For "Extended Unemployment Compensation, Stimulus Spending And Obama's Health Reforms." From Reuters:
Underlying the Census data was a rate of economic growth too meager to compensate for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs from 2009 to 2010, as the recession officially ended but the jobless rate shot up from 9.3 percent to 9.6 percent.
"All of this deterioration in the labor market caused incomes to drop, poverty to rise and people to lose their health insurance," said Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute think tank. "One of the immediately obvious issues this brings up is that there is no relief in sight."
The numbers would have been worse, analysts said, but for government assistance programs including extended unemployment compensation, stimulus spending and Obama's health reforms, which appeared to reduce the number of uninsured young adults. [Reuters, 9/13/11]