As rampant as poverty is in America, it would be much worse without government aid.
The Census Bureau estimates that last year a record 46 million people lived below the poverty line, and revised figures released this week suggest that the number may in fact be more than that.
But without government programs aimed at helping citizens most in need, the poverty rate would be almost twice that, with more than a quarter of all Americans being classified as poor, according to a new study.
These findings come from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, whose new report shows that in the absence of the social safety net, the poverty rate would rise to 28.6 percent from the current official measure of 15.1 percent.
Social safety net programs, as defined by the CBPP, include unemployment insurance, Social Security, veterans' benefits, housing assistance, and a raft of other measures, including half a dozen initiatives included in the 2009 Recovery Act.
The report suggests that for all the problems currently plaguing the American economy -- stubbornly high unemployment, millions of homes in foreclosure and more than one in five people struggling to put food on the table -- the government's efforts to alleviate poverty have had at least some effect.
Even with safety net programs in place, more and more Americans have found themselves forced into positions of want, as homeowner wealth has eroded and national annual median wage has stalled around $26,364 per year.
The problem has spilled into traditional middle-class enclaves, with poverty rates in U.S. suburbs now 53 percent higher than in 2000. The Great Recession made things worse, but its end, which officially came during the summer of 2009, did not make things better: There are now 20 million more Americans on food stamps than there were before the recession began, according to ABC News.
Some of the safety-net programs named in the CBPP report are currently the subject of debate in Washington, where a 12-member Congressional panel is looking for $1.2 trillion to cut from the federal budget by November 23, Dow Jones Newswires reports.
Democratic lawmakers have requested a hearing to discuss the importance of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- programs that face cuts from the deficit-reduction committee, even though such proposals have been vehemently protested by thousands in recent days.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated that the U.S. median income fell to $26,364. The U.S. annual median wage fell to $26,364.