The Census Bureau released new numbers today on poverty in the U.S. The new estimates--from 2008--give us our first official glimpse of the recession’s impact on the country’s poor population. Not surprisingly, the news isn’t good. A few points from the report:
- The poverty rate increased significantly for the first time since 2004--from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent
- This is the highest national poverty rate since 1997
- Over 39.8 million people lived below the poverty line in 2008--an increase of almost 2.6 million since 2007 and a total that hasn’t been surpassed since 1960
Though it will be a number of years yet until we know the full extent of the recession’s impact on poverty, clearly the depth of the recession in 2008 alone has already translated into significant increases in the number of individuals and families living below the poverty line.
But in looking at these numbers we should also remember that recent research on the country’s major metro areas and their cities and suburbs has shown us that this downturn has not been felt equally across the country. Instead, regions hit hardest by the collapse of the housing market--including Sun Belt metro areas like Las Vegas, Stockton, Modesto, and Cape Coral--and regions heavily dependent on the auto manufacturing industry--like Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Youngstown--have borne the brunt of this recession’s negative impacts. And just as the downturn has affected certain metro areas disproportionately, we should also expect the poverty trends to differ across communities.
While the national story (see attached chart) signals a grim trajectory for poverty trends overall, we won’t know how the reality of these trends play out on the ground until local-level data are released on September 22nd. But based on the metropolitan experience following the first recession of this decade, we should expect poverty in these Western and Midwestern metro areas to see the biggest upticks, in line with the economic hardships they’ve faced over the course of this recession. In fact, today’s report already suggests this will be the case; among the four census regions in the country, the West and Midwest are the two that showed significant increases in both the number of people living in poverty and the overall poverty rate.
As more data become available, we’ll be able to dig deeper and assess how poverty is changing in the cities and suburbs of our nation’s metro areas and to discuss how policy can effectively address these trends. But after today’s first glimpse, and knowing we still have 2009’s results ahead of us, we can expect the news to get worse before it gets better.