Over the past month, a number of reports have been released documenting the extent of poverty in the nation. The statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census are alarming.
- The poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1%, with 46.2 million people living below the poverty line, or $22,113 for a family of four. These figures represent the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate, and the largest number of impoverished people since the Census began tracking poverty estimates 52 years ago.
- Real median household income in 2010 was $49,445, down 2.3% from 2009.
- Over 30% of female-headed households lived in poverty in 2010, another increase from the previous year.
Data from The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book was just as bleak.
- 42% of children in the United States, almost 31 million, lived in low-income families in 2009, a 7.4% increase from 2007.
- In 2009, 20%
of children lived below the federal poverty line. The rate was even higher for Black (36%), American Indian (35%), and Hispanic/Latino (31%) families.
Unfortunately, at a time when so many families are struggling, the safety net is not providing adequate support. Contending with their own budget crises, many states are reducing welfare benefits and imposing stricter rules. According to a recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, cash benefits from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the federal welfare program for families, have not kept pace with inflation. In fact, while the level of cash benefits varies, in all 50 states the incomes of families receiving TANF benefits are below half the federal poverty line. In Los Angeles County, the maximum cash benefit for a family of three is a mere $762 per month. Yet the average asking rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles in 2010 was approximately $1700.
One need not be an economist to realize that these trends do not bode well for the ability of families to afford housing. As it stands, families in poverty are only one crisisaway from homelessness. The future will remain uncertain for these families unless policymakers and advocates work to not only raise the employment rate and strengthen the safety net, but also to increase the supply of affordable housing.
 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-239, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2011, p. 14.
 U.S. Census Bureau, p. 5.
 In this case, “low-income families” are those with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.
 The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book, p. 13
 RealFacts, accessed 8/1/11