Professor Douglas Besharov, an expert on poverty and welfare at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, offers insight on poverty trends in the U.S. based upon his analysis of the 2011 U.S. Census figures.
The U.S. poverty rate changed from 15.1% to 15% in 2011 with around 46.2 million people below the poverty line. A tenth of a percentage point is statistically insignificant. Besharov believes that this demonstrates that the people on the edge of the poverty line have remained on the edge; they have not necessarily increased their income. This leveling off is still surprising though, since many experts believed it would be the fifth straight year of increasing poverty rates.
Besharov assigns three majors factors to account for this new finding. First, the continued ability of unemployment insurance to compensate for lost wages. Second, the increase in work, possibly in the underground economy, and concomitant decrease in poverty among Hispanics, especially non-citizens, 500,000 of whom escaped poverty last year. Third, the apparent ability of low-income workers to increase the number of hours worked even as total unemployment did not decline, especially in the South and suburbs. He also notes that a smaller influence may be that more people are sharing living quarters.
Professor Besharov has dedicated his career to analyzing public policy regarding families, poverty and welfare. He was an early proponent of welfare reform efforts in the 1990s that increased work requirements. From 1991 to 1992, he served as the administrator of the AEI/White House Working Seminar on Integrated Services for Children and Families, a project designed to improve the delivery of services to disadvantaged children and their families.
For more information, visit: http://newsdesk.umd.edu/universitynews/release.cfm?ArticleID=2774
September 12, 2012