By Leticia Miranda, Senior Policy Advisor, Economic Security Policy, NCLR
This week the Census Bureau released its latest round of data on how many Americans are living in poverty. The data show that an improving economy has not translated into less poverty or higher incomes. According to the figures, 46 million Americans remain stuck in poverty, including 13.6 million Latinos who live on incomes below $23,283 per year for a family of four. One in four Latinos and one in six Americans overall were counted as poor.
Instead of helping, Congress is on the brink of enacting more job-killing budget cuts and slashing such lifelines as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.
While the economy grew by three percent between 2011 and 2012, that economic growth has not helped workers whose wages and poverty levels remain stuck. The Latino unemployment rate fell from 11.5 percent in 2011 to 10.2 percent in September 2012 and has continued to drop to 9.3 percent as of August 2013. Yet poverty among Latinos has remained stuck at 25.6 percent in 2012, and income did not rise above the previous year’s level of $39,005.
While jobs are being created, wages have remained stagnant. This fact highlights the critical importance of a higher minimum wage in addition to more job creation for the millions who remain without work.
It has been well documented that the suffering experienced by millions during the Great Recession would have been much worse without key worker supports such as SNAP and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For example, the EITC kept three million children out of poverty while SNAP kept four million people out of poverty. But the official Census poverty numbers released this week do not count the impact of programs like SNAP and the EITC. If these programs were counted, then the official poverty numbers would be much lower.
Despite the importance of SNAP in fighting poverty and hunger, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Thursday on slashing $40 billion from SNAP over the next ten years. Seventeen million families who rely on SNAP to help feed their families are hanging by a thread. This attempt to cut SNAP would hurt vulnerable families and deal another blow to our economy.
Other key programs that help low-income families and children climb out of poverty—such as Head Start preschool, Title I K–12 education, and job training—are already being deeply cut by Congress through the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Latinos rely heavily on these programs to advance academically and find better jobs. For example, 37 percent of kids in Head Start are Latino. Congress must stop these harmful sequestration cuts and instead invest in children. The investments we make in today’s youth will reduce poverty over the long term and ensure future prosperity for all Americans.
Latinos voters want good jobs, not cuts. In surveys Latinos typically place the economy as their number one concern, yet a government shutdown or more cuts will damage our economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, ending budget sequestration would increase job creation by 900 thousand in one year.
Budget cuts that make poverty worse are not the answer. Congress could reduce poverty by producing a fair and responsible long-term budget plan that grows the economy, invests in the future, protects vulnerable people, and reduces the deficit by raising revenue from fair sources.