The Economy Needs a Triple Hitter: Jobs, Safety Nets and Targeted Policies

09/16/2010 02:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • C. Nicole Mason Executive Director, Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest and Ascend Fellow at the Aspen Institute

According to the U.S. Census, there are enough new poor people in the U.S. to fill the New York Yankee Stadium more than six times over. And since the start of the recession in 2007, over six million have slipped into poverty--that's more than twice the size of the city of Chicago. This is not simply a case of the poor sliding deeper into poverty, but of individuals straddling the line between middle class stability and poverty falling over the edge.

Over the last few decades, the thin line separating the middle-class and those living in poverty has all but disappeared. The recession has revealed that many Americans are a paycheck away from poverty or becoming the "new" poor.

We've all been wondering just how bad it's gotten. Now we know--it's bad. We are no longer talking about having to choose between taking a vacation or buying a new dress; now we are talking about the choice between putting food on the table or a roof over your head.

Current efforts by the Administration and others to half the number of individuals living in poverty and stabilize the middle class are no match for historic unemployment rates, the collapse of the housing market and a sluggish economy. The billions pumped into the economy to create jobs and help individuals and families make ends meet seem like a pittance compared to the magnitude of the crisis we are facing.

The number of new people who have slid into poverty since the start of the recession is approximately one-half of the 14 million who have become unemployed since 2007, pushing the number of individuals living in poverty to over 45 million.

To make matters worse, those who were struggling economically before the recession--racial and ethnic minorities and single mothers--have hit rock bottom. African-Americans and Latinos continue to have disproportionately high poverty and unemployment rates compared to whites. According to newly released statistics, the poverty rates of both groups hover around 25 percent compared to just 9 percent for whites. In terms of unemployment, the rate for African-Americans compared to whites is nearly double--16 percent compared to 8 percent.

Single mothers and children have also experienced a significant increase in poverty over the last year, with an additional 200,000 families reporting an income of less than $20,500 per year for a family of four.

A few weeks ago, Congress voted to slash nearly 11.9 billion from Food Stamp funding--a program that has been a lifeline to many working poor and middle class families during the recession. There is also resistance to additional spending to create jobs and extend benefits for the swelling number of unemployed.

We are moving in the wrong direction. In a ravaged economy, families need more support, not less. The country is in desperate need of a triple hitter--increased social supports for working families; the allocation of additional funds to create quality jobs with good wages; and the development of bold and targeted policies to help individuals and groups disproportionately impacted by the recession recover. Who's up at bat?