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Fixing the Economy - Cost of Inaction -



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September 13, 2011

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reprint of this article now. September 13, 2011 Page 1 of 2 The Cost of Inaction

The Cost of Inaction

The latest figures from the Census Bureau show the devastating cost of the recession and why putting Americans back to work must be Washington’s top priority.

The bureau reported on Tuesday that the number of people living in poverty swelled by 2.6 million between 2009 and 2010 to 46.2 million. That is a shocking 15.1 percent of the population — the highest share since


The middle class is also hurting. Last year, the income of the typical American household fell 2.3 percent to $49,445 — it’s third consecutive annual decline — capping a lost decade of stagnating earnings. Median household income hit its lowest level since 1996 — $3,800 a year less than its peak in 1999.

The poverty numbers are even bleaker for minorities. According to the bureau, 26.6 percent of Hispanic households and 27.4 percent of black households lived below the poverty line last year, compared with 13 percent for white households. Almost a third of families led by a single mother were below the poverty line, while 22 percent of children subsisted in poverty.

Poverty levels are even worse by historical standards. The government considers a family of four to be poor if it earned less than $22,314 in 2010 — about 30 percent of the median income. The original poverty line, introduced in the 1960s, was almost 50 percent of median incomes. Using that formula, 22 percent of Americans are now poor, about the same share as a half-century ago.

These numbers should jolt Washington into addressing the real economic crisis. The deficit must be addressed over time. But right now the problem is too few jobs, not too much government spending. Indeed, government safety-net programs — so often sneered at by Republicans — are all that is keeping millions from falling into complete despair. Food stamps helped feed 40 million families in 2010, 50 percent more than in 2007. Slashing such spending now will only put more people out of work and drive more families below the poverty line.

It took too long, but President Obama is now pushing back. His new proposals to extend unemployment insurance benefits for millions of people, invest in public infrastructure and provide incentives for employers to increase their payrolls should add jobs and help the jobless make ends meet. Congressional Republicans, predictably, are complaining about the cost and about raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.

With 14 million Americans out of work and 46 million living in poverty, the real human cost of more obstruction and inaction is undeniable and inexcusable. cos