09/12/2012 05:48 pm ET

Child Poverty Holds Steady For The First Time In Years, Census Bureau Finds

After climbing four years in a row, the U.S. child-poverty rate essentially held firm in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Wednesday.

In 2010, the child-poverty rate peaked at 22 percent. In 2011, census officials found that 21.9 percent of American children are living below the poverty line.

The overall poverty rate held steady as well. According to the Census, 46.2 million people, or 15 percent of the population, live in poverty.

"The good news is that the poverty rates have not risen," said Curtis Skinner, an economist at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University. "The bad news is that of course the poverty rate is still very high."

Skinner, and other economists and policy specialists have attributed the halt in the rising poverty rate to the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs. Melissa Boteach, the director of the Poverty and Prosperity Program for the Center of American Progress, stressed the importance of programs like unemployment insurance, the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit -– all of which were expanded by President Barack Obama as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, these programs have kept millions out of poverty.

Boteach said her group is recommending that Congress act to ensure that "deficit reduction and poverty reduction go hand in hand." The expansion of the last two tax credits is set to expire at the end of the year, as Boteach noted in a blog on the CAP website.

"If Congress fails to act," she wrote, "millions of families could be pushed into poverty or experience deeper poverty."

Skinner also warned of the proposed farm bill in Congress, which would cut $16 billion from nutritional programs, including food stamps. The Republican majority is "trying to squeeze what they can out of programs from low-income folks," he said.

On a brighter note, he said, "I think if we can continue to sustain the safety net, which is always under fire, we may begin to see some further decreases in poverty."

A spokesperson for the House agriculture committee, where the farm bill originated, forwarded a statement from Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the committee chair. "We also close loopholes and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse," Lucas said.