The Census Bureau's new poverty data, released today, delivers a shocking statistic: One in seven Americans lived in poverty in 2009.
This number reflects a record increase in poverty over the previous year. In 2009, 14.3% of Americans were poor, up from 13.2% in 2008. This translates into 43.6 million Americans living in poverty in 2009, up from 38.9 million in 2008. But these numbers, shocking as they are, likely do not reflect the true depth of the crisis we are in. Because the Census gathers its data based on household surveys, it does not capture many of those who are suffering the most: homeless Americans.
As the Census report notes, the economic recession had an impact on driving up the poverty numbers. As documented by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the recession has led to dramatic increases in homelessness in communities across the country. These include:
• A 198% percent increase in shelter requests from 2008 to 2009 in Anchorage, Alaska.
• A 32% increase in families in shelters in Springfield, Massachusetts from 2008 to January 2010.
• A 40% increase in families seeking shelter in Nassau County, on New York's Long Island.
• A 110 % increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people in 2010 from 2009, in Thurston County, Washington.
Children bear much of this burden. A recent report documents a 41% increase in homeless school children nationally in the past two years alone. And in Winston Salem, North Carolina, the city reports that in 2009, of 485 people living on the streets, 61 children were homeless.
Despite this grim news, there are bright spots. Funds made available through the Recovery Act last year provided some relief to families and individuals on the brink of homelessness -- to prevent them from falling over the edge. A new law enacted in 2009 provides protections to tenants in foreclosure -- a critical safeguard against homelessness. And this past June, the Obama Administration released a comprehensive plan to end and prevent homelessness.
But while these are steps in the right direction, they are not enough--not by a long shot. This is why the Law Center and other advocates are raising the stakes by calling on the U.N.'s Human Rights Council to hold the United States accountable. This year, the U.S. is being reviewed for adherence to human rights standards. These include the right to an "adequate standard of living," including adequate shelter.
Right now, more than one in seven of us are being denied this basic human right.