Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Setting an Unwanted Record

Sep 16, 2011

By Janaye Ingram

Lately, the news has had a few mentions of Americans setting world records. One woman set a world record for the length of her fingernails, one for the length of her tongue and one for the largest afro. As I scrolled through my twitter log, looked at my Facebook news feed, and even browsed through my email, I saw a lot of people talking about these record setting “accomplishments”. But the one thing that was noticeably missing from the discussion was the one record that we need to pay the most attention to: a record 46.2 MILLION Americans live in poverty according to a recent Census Bureau report.

In 2010 the poverty level was defined by the Census Bureau as an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four. Currently, 1 in 6 people are living in poverty and it’s the highest number of people since the Census Bureau began tracking it in 1959. With the unemployment rate stagnant at 9.1% and uncertainty around passage of the President’s (or any other) major jobs bill, the number of Americans living in poverty could increase. An estimated 6 million people fall into the long term unemployed category (those people who have been unemployed more than 26 weeks) and will likely add to the numbers if jobs aren’t created. Of all of the racial and ethnic groups, poverty increased among everyone except Asians. Blacks have the highest poverty rate at 27.4% an increase from 25.8% in 2009, Hispanics at 26.6%, up from 25.3% and the rates for whites increased from 9.4% in 2009 to 9.9% in 2010. Asians remained steady at 12.1%. An article in the New York Times reported in 2010, 48 million people did not work even one week out of the year, up from 45 million in 2009.

The President’s jobs plan includes proposals to increase money in people’s pockets at a time when extra income is so critical. After January 2012, the extended unemployment benefits expire and people who are in the category of long term unemployed will have to find other resources to meet their household needs. The President has asked members of Congress to extend the unemployment benefits in order to help address this population. According to the Census Bureau, without unemployment insurance benefits, another 2.3 million working age adults would have been classified as living in poverty. Additionally, extending the Social Security payroll tax cut will allow people to keep more money in their paychecks. With the election year right around the corner, this latest report will likely be used against the President as political propaganda. But these numbers are startling and the time is now to get passage on the American Jobs Act so that people will be able to access some of the monetary benefits offered through the proposed legislation.

This is prime time for people to continue to mobilize for jobs. National Action Network’s March & Rally for Jobs and Justice will be taking place on October 15th in Washington, DC. If you haven’t gotten your seat on the bus, the time is now. Additionally, I encourage everyone to call their Congressional representatives and urge them to pass the President’s American Jobs Act.

There are trivial records and critical records and the level of poverty we are seeing is critical. We can’t allow our country to set this type of record and not be moved to action.