Spotlight Exclusives

More Poor a Snore?

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On September 10, the U.S. Census will release data showing how many of us were officially poor in 2008.  Since the recession began at the end of 2007, it should come as no surprise that the rate will grow.  In fact, a couple of weeks ago, Becky Blank, undersecretary of economic affairs at the Commerce Department (and former Spotlight advisory council member), predicted that poverty would grow to at least 12.7 percent, which translates into 1.5 million more poor people.  Other unofficial predictions put the number at more than 13 percent. While there will be media coverage around the release of the latest poverty numbers, much of it is likely to note that an increase in poverty is predictable during a recession.  As a result, the new numbers may not get the sustained, in-depth attention they deserve.  

There are steps we can all take, however, to help keep the conversation going.

The Coalition on Human Needs co-sponsored an excellent webcast on how to put the September 10 national numbers from Census in context (and the September 22 state numbers as well).  Among the key points were:

    * The recession, while contributing to the 2008 increase in the poverty rate, does not explain away the pre-recession 12.5 percent rate of poverty.

Even before the recession, one of every eight of us was officially poor. We need to recognize and address the policy and practice problems that preceded the recession and not assume that when the recession goes away, so too will poverty.

    * The recession has deepened in 2009, so the 2008 poverty data reflects just the tip of the iceberg. By 2010 when we will likely have double digit (10 percent ) unemployment, poverty could grow to 14.8 percent.

In addition to the continued growth in unemployment, an important but not as often discussed factor is underemployment workers whose hours get reduced or who are never provided enough hours.

    * The recession has caused serious shortfalls in state budgets so states are making cuts in services and supports at the very time people need them most.

There is good reason to be concerned that the ready explanation for the poverty increase , aka “the recession, ” will cause some to snore about the more poor۪ statistic.   That is why it is vital for all of us who advocate for those in need, to talk up the importance of the new poverty numbers when they۪re released next week.  Spotlight۪s Poverty Data Day twitter campaign is a good place to start. Join us and our partners in tweeting about the new numbers and why they matter.  And ask your friends, colleagues and members of your organization to do the same.

Posted by Jodie


Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn۪t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and its impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

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