Poverty Numbers Alarming, but not Surprising

09/24/2010 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the last few years, our food banks have seen families need for food assistance rise dramatically -- 46 percent. And it's no wonder. The Census Bureau's new survey reveals that the poverty rate has hit its highest point in 15 years, with nearly 44 million people living in poverty. The most startling fact is that 15.5 million children are living in poverty -- that's one in five. These latest figures mark the third consecutive annual increase in the number of poor people in the United States.

Our food bankers understand why more and more people are coming to them for food assistance: their clients are people who have lost their jobs and are clamoring for work in a dismal employment scenario; families who are struggling to pay for medical care at a time when an additional 4.4 million more people lost their healthcare coverage; and children who do not have access to nutrition programs when they are out of school; and seniors who cannot afford to pay for costly medications and groceries on their fixed incomes.

We also know that poverty is severely under-measured in this country and that these figures cannot accurately convey the level of need and the number of people who are suffering through the recession. The Census Bureau's numbers were collected in 2009 and since then, jobs continue to be lost and benefits are expiring. In the first half of 2010, nearly two million new people applied for SNAP benefits.

As the need for food assistance continues to rise, we know that we will not fully see the effects of the recession on poverty for several years, nor will be able to completely grasp the effects that today's long-term unemployment will have on families and entire communities.

As of last year, nearly 44 million people live in poverty; more than 50 million people have no health insurance; and 49 million people live at risk of hunger. I can only imagine what those figures are today. It is shameful that, in this nation of plenty, such great numbers of people must struggle just to get by.