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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

America’s poverty rate soared last year. Children were among the worst hit.

Millions of American families fell into poverty last year as the well of government-funded pandemic aid dried up and incomes shrank, according to new data from the U.S. Census. Children were particularly hard-hit, with the poverty rate for kids doubling compared with 2021.

The surge in poverty is “stunning,” Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a statement. Parrott pointed to the end of the expanded federal Child Tax Credit in 2022 as a cause of the sharp increase in child poverty and called for lawmakers to reinstate the benefit.

The rise in poverty amounts to an increase of 15.3 million people around the U.S. living in poverty, according to the left-leaning think tank.

Biggest poverty increase in over half a century

The latest Census data underscores the dichotomy of the post-pandemic economy, which has been marked by a strong job market yet also rising inflation that’s hobbled many households. Last year also marked the end of all pandemic-era benefits that helped families stay afloat during the health crisis, such as stimulus checks and the Child Tax Credit, which distributed as much as $300 per child in cash payments.

“The rise in the poverty rate, the largest on record in over 50 years both overall and for children, underscores the critical role that policy choices play in the level of poverty and hardship in the country,” Parrot said.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which measures whether people have enough resources to cover their needs, was 12.4% for U.S. households in 2022, an increase of 4.6 percentage points from a year earlier, the Census said on Tuesday.

The child poverty rate, as measured by the SPM, jumped from a historic low of 5.2% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022, the Census said. That’s the largest change in child poverty since the Census began tracking the SPM in 2009, Census officials said.

The SPM includes income as well as the impact of non-cash assistance, such as food aid and housing assistance. It also subtracts some expenses from income, such as medical costs, child care and the cost of commuting.

If the expanded Child Tax Credit had been renewed, about 3 million additional children would have been kept out of poverty last year, while and child poverty would have been about 8.4% rather than 12.4%, the CBPP said.

Americans earning less

U.S. households also earned less last year, the Census said. The median household income in 2022 was $74,580, a decline of 2.3% from 2021 and the third year in a row that incomes have dipped.

“These are statistically significant declines,” Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA and an employment trends expert, said in an email. “While many people rushed to defend the 2020 decline as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that Americans’ incomes are still declining even now is very concerning.”

Wages aren’t keeping up with inflation, leading to the decline in income, he added.

Asian Americans had the highest median household income, at almost $109,000, while Black Americans had the lowest, at about $53,000.

—With reporting by the Associated Press.

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