More than 20 million saved from poverty
Government assistance has helped keep people out of poverty.
September 13th, 2012
11:31 AM ET

More than 20 million saved from poverty

By Tami Luhby @CNNMoney

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) –Federal lifeline programs have helped keep millions out of poverty, U.S. Census data shows.

Social Security payments lifted 21.4 million people - including 14.5 million senior citizens - over the poverty line in 2011, while unemployment benefits prevented 2.3 million Americans from falling into poverty.

The Census Bureau doesn't take into account non-cash benefits, such as food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit, when it measures income. But it calculates how these programs would have helped keep poverty in check.

There were some 46.2 million people below the poverty line - which was $23,021 for a family of four - in 2011.

Food stamps would have lifted 3.9 million people - 1.7 million of them children - out of poverty had that aid been counted as income. And the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal credit for low- to moderate-income working Americans, would have kept 5.7 million people, including 3.1 million children, above the poverty line.

Read the full story at CNNMoney's Economy blog

Filed under: Economy • How we live • Poverty
Opinion: Poverty numbers don't tell the whole story
Psychologist Susan Bodnar say poverty "numbers don’t tell the real story about people and their finances."
September 12th, 2012
12:41 PM ET

Opinion: Poverty numbers don't tell the whole story

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at The Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Almost every day brings an economic report with new statistics.

The numbers attempt to explain our society as a configuration of categories, boxes or slices on a pie chart.

In 2011, 46.2 million people fell below the poverty line. The top 1% has a household net worth of $16.4 million, while the median wealth is only $57,000. 

Median income falls, but so does poverty

These numbers don’t tell the real story about people and their finances.

History does.

Honestly, I don’t want to write this.

As a psychologist, I would like to hide how difficult it was to attain my education and my professional credentials, and how hard I still work! Once a person has achieved this thing called status it has become fashionable to act as if entitled to it, as though those who don’t yet have it are neither smart nor hardworking enough.

Yet I have an obligation to not deny the generations of hardship out of which I have constructed my success. FULL POST

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Median income falls, but so does poverty
Poverty rate drops slightly for the first time in 4 years, the Census Bureau says.
September 12th, 2012
11:17 AM ET

Median income falls, but so does poverty

By Tami Luhby @CNNMoney

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - Middle-class families continued to see their incomes decline in the aftermath of the Great Recession, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday.

Median household income fell to $50,054 in 2011, down 1.5% from a year earlier. Income inequality widened, as the highest income echelon experienced a jump in incomes, while those in the middle of the income range saw incomes shrink.

Meanwhile, the national poverty rate hit 15.0% in 2011, down slightly from 15.1% the year before. Some 46.2 million people fell below the poverty line last year. The poverty threshold for a family of four was $23,021.

Most experts were expecting an increase in poverty, but Census officials said an increase in the number of people working full-time helped keep the rate in check.

Read the full story at CNN Money

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Welfare spending cut in half since reform
August 9th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Welfare spending cut in half since reform

By Tami Luhby @CNNMoney

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - Today's welfare program is nothing like what it used to be.

In the 16 years since President Clinton and Congress overhauled the nation's welfare system, the number of people receiving cash assistance has fallen by two-thirds. And public spending on the program has dropped by more than half.

Conservative lawmakers and policy analysts have celebrated the reform, saying it has helped put people on the road to self-sufficiency rather than government dependence.

But advocates for low-income people contend that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is what welfare turned into in 1996, does not adequately support the poor, particularly in tough economic times.

The cash assistance portion of TANF has fallen to $9.6 billion in 2011, down from $20.4 billion in what were mostly cash benefits in 1996, according to an analysis by CLASP, a low-income advocacy group. The average number of people receiving payments per month is 4.6 million, down from 12.6 million.

"Very few poor families are served," said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It's really not a very broad program right now."

Read the full post

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Embed America: Wide open spaces but reservation residents don't feel free
Calvin "Hawkeye" Waln says raising allegations of abuses against his reservation's police department cost him his job.
August 9th, 2012
12:35 PM ET

Embed America: Wide open spaces but reservation residents don't feel free

By Lisa Desjardins and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

Listen: Native Americans confront police brutality on reservation

Rosebud, South Dakota (CNN) – They are watchwords of both parties: freedom and liberty.

But when Embed America went to South Dakota we found a place where many say that both are threatened and the problem is ignored. The Rosebud Sioux Reservation includes one of the poorest counties in the nation, but residents talked with us more about their concerns that the tribal police force is part of a broken justice system.

We spoke with Calvin “Hawkeye” Waln, a recently fired police officer who made some serious charges.

[3:14] “You're talking violations of civil rights, excessive use of force is one. You’re talking spraying handcuffed suspects with pepper spray to physical police brutality where the officers end up injuring or breaking bones from assaulting somebody.”

Waln says his reporting these problems led to his ouster. The police department would not comment on why he was fired.

This comes after years of upheaval in the Rosebud police force. Two chiefs of police were fired in the past four years amidst corruption allegations, then the second chief was reinstated in the past few weeks.

Read the full story on CNN's Soundwaves blog

Opinion: Why middle class has taken a big hit
The average American family's net worth dropped almost 40% between 2007 and 2010.
June 13th, 2012
08:00 PM ET

Opinion: Why middle class has taken a big hit

Editor's note: Dean Baker, an economist, is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive economic policy organization. He is author of "The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive."

By Dean Baker, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The Federal Reserve's newly released Survey of Consumer Finances confirmed what most of us already knew: The middle class has taken a really big hit.

Between 2007 to 2010, the typical family had lost nearly 40% of their wealth. And, despite that our economy was 15% larger in 2010 than in 2001, the typical family's wealth decreased by 27.1% since 2001. On top of that, income had fallen. Median family income in 2010 was down by 7.7% from its 2007 level and 6.3% from its level a decade ago.

The picture looks dismal, doesn't it? But none of these numbers are surprising really. Is the average American poorer than before? Yes.

Read Dean Baker's full column

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From scrubbing floors to Ivy League: Homeless student to go to dream college
Dawn Loggins never gave up on her dreams, even when she was homeless. She heads to the Ivy League this fall.
June 7th, 2012
05:31 PM ET

From scrubbing floors to Ivy League: Homeless student to go to dream college

Editor's note: To hear more from Dawn Loggins and her journey, watch Martin Savidge's full report tonight on AC360 at 8p/10p ET

By Vivian Kuo, CNN

Lawndale, North Carolina (CNN) - It's before sunrise, and the janitor at Burns High School has already been down the length of a hallway, cleaning and sweeping classrooms before the day begins.

This particular janitor is painstakingly methodical, even as she administers a mental quiz on an upcoming test. Her name is Dawn Loggins, a straight-A senior at the very school she cleans.

On this day, she maneuvers a long-handled push broom between rows of desks. She stops to pick up a hardened, chewed piece of gum. "This annoys me, because there's a trash can right here," she says.

The worst, she says, is snuff cans in urinals. "It's just rude and pointless."

With her long, straight dark blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses, Dawn looks a bit like Avril Lavigne. But her life is a far cry from that of a privileged pop star.

She was homeless at the start of the school year, abandoned by her drug-abusing parents. The teachers and others in town pitched in - donating clothes and providing medical and dental care. She got the janitorial job through a school workforce assistance program.

Read the full story

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Opinion: Poor and fat: The real class war
A class war that politicians don't talk about is the link between poverty, obesity and life expectancy, LZ Granderson says.
June 5th, 2012
12:32 PM ET

Opinion: Poor and fat: The real class war

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor

(CNN) - Over the past year we've heard a lot about class warfare, the "Buffett Rule" and the tax code and so on. But if you want to see a blatant form of poor vs. rich, walk into a grocery store. Here we are forced to decide between what's good for our kids and what we can afford to feed them.

Ground beef that is 80/20 is fattier but cheaper than 90/10. Ground turkey breast is leaner than the other two but is usually the more expensive. And many of us can't even begin to think about free-range chicken and organic produce - food without pesticides and antibiotics that'll cost you a second mortgage in no time at all.

Recently Michelle Obama's campaign to get healthier foods into poor neighborhoods came under new scrutiny because two studies found her notion of "food deserts" - poor urban neighborhoods where access to fresh fruits and vegetables are supposedly nonexistent - doesn't quite jibe with the research. The studies have even found that there isn't a relationship between the type of food offered in neighborhoods and obesity among the children living there.

That may be true.

But it is also true that The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published a study that found $1 could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips but just 250 calories of vegetables and 170 calories of fresh fruit. And it is also true that Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, is also the fattest.

Read LZ Granderson's full column

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Filed under: Economy • Poverty • What we think
April 18th, 2012
03:32 PM ET

Opinion: All kids should take 'Poverty 101'

Editor’s note: Donna Beegle is president and founder of Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm that works to increase communication across poverty, race, gender and generational barriers, in part with “Poverty 101” workshops. She has a doctorate in education leadership from Portland State University.

Beegle is taking part in the CNN Dialogues event, “Today’s Other America: Living in Poverty,” at 7 p.m. tonight at the Rialto Center for the Arts in Atlanta.

By Donna Beegle, CNN

(CNN) - My dream is that a person will not be able to graduate from college without taking a Poverty 101 course. Poverty hurts all humanity and it’s the responsibility of everyone to bond together to eradicate it. Our ignorance about poverty perpetuates it and divides us as a nation.

I didn’t always know this. I was born into generational poverty; for many decades, most of my family members were uneducated, unskilled and, like 44 million Americans, illiterate. They survived in temporary, minimum wage jobs that didn’t pay in respect, nor provide opportunities for advancement.

My dad worked temporary seasonal jobs, the only ones he could get with limited literacy, no education and no specific job skills. My mom, like her widowed mom, picked cotton. We were highly mobile and survived mostly on migrant labor work in Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. We followed the fruit season to pick cherries, strawberries, oranges and grapefruits. We picked green beans and dug potatoes. They were workers of the land, never owners. My family worked very hard and worked very long hours, but we were still evicted.

In school, I did not know the middle-class life examples teachers used to explain academic subjects. I was unable to understand and speak in their middle-class language; I said “ain’t,” didn’t know whether to use “gone” or “went,” didn’t know a difference between “seen” or “saw.” When told to “go look it up,” I dutifully went to the dictionary, only to find five more words I did not know and words no one in my world used. This just reinforced there was something wrong with my family, friends and me. It reinforced that education was not for me.


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