In America’s new normal, plenty of Americans will tumble into
poverty at some point – but few will be stuck there forever.
Nearly one in three Americans experienced a stint of poverty
between 2009 and 2011, a new Census Bureau report finds, but only
a fraction of those people were stuck below the poverty line for
the entire three-year period.
“There’s a lot of movement in and out of poverty,” said Ann
Stevens, director of the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis.
California, the state renowned for Beverly Hills mansions,
glittery Hollywood stars, Malibu beaches, palm trees, and the
stunning Golden Gate Bridge, hides a deep, dark secret – it has
the nation’s highest poverty rate.
“Housing costs in Nevada or Florida… are nowhere near this
extreme,” said Ann Huff Stevens, director of the Center for
Poverty Research at University of California-Davis, in an
interview. “It is important to note that California is a
very expensive state, but it is also important to keep in mind
that this is the main factor that makes our poverty rate jump
from slightly higher than the national average in the official
measure to number 1 in the supplemental measures.”
When President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on
poverty” in his State of the Union address, 50 years ago this
week, the official poverty rate was 19 percent.
Last year, it stood at 15 percent. And so the war goes on.
What that official measure of poverty fails to capture are other,
harder-to-quantify successes, according to Ann Huff Stevens,
economics professor and director of the UC Davis Center for
“Because we now provide a substantial number of low-income
families with Medicaid, with health insurance for their children,
with food stamp nutrition support, with school lunch, we see
improvement in the health of the poor people,” Stevens said.
In the 50 years since Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson declared “an
unconditional war on poverty,” the United States has gained
ground in some areas of the fight and lost in others. Income
disparity between rich and poor Americans has increased, while
programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance have made a
huge difference in reducing poverty rates.
One of the initiatives signed by Johnson during his presidency is
the School Breakfast Program. While it isn’t responsible for
decreases in poverty, it has successfully fed hungry children and
increased learning in poor areas of America. Joining us with an
evaluation of the School Breakfast Program is Assistant Professor
in the Department of Economics at the University of Iowa David
Frisvold, who is speaking at a UC Davis “War on Poverty”
During the tail end of the recession and its aftermath, nearly a
third of Americans suffered bouts of poverty lasting two months
or more, the U.S. Census Bureau found in a newly released report.
“The fact that someone comes out of poverty for a few months
should not lead us to conclude that poverty is not chronic,” said
Ann Stevens, director of the UC Davis Center for Poverty
Research. Though only 3.5% of Americans were poor throughout the
entire period from 2009 to 2011, Stevens said, other research
suggests many more bobbed in and out of poverty.
50 years ago today, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson announced
the war on poverty. This “war” was meant to help the nearly 1 in
5 Americans who were poor.
Half a century later, after the country’s great recession, the
number of people living below the line hasn’t gone down by much.
That reality is also reflected here, where Californians tend to
struggle more than the rest of the country.
For more we’re joined by Ann Huff Stevens, director of the Center
for Poverty Research at UC-Davis.
On Dec. 28, right between Christmas and New Year’s, federal
emergency unemployment compensation will expire, taking away the
last form of jobless aid available to more than 3,000 long-term
unemployed workers here in Maine. By the middle of next year, an
additional 9,000 Mainers and their families will be left without
any form of jobless assistance.
The Center for Poverty Research found that since 2009,
unemployment insurance has been responsible for a 25 percent
reduction in poverty among children with an unemployed parent.
Three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans will lose their
unemployment insurance benefits after Republicans in Congress
choose not to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation
program, which provides jobless benefits beyond the traditional
Additionally, “a recent study by the Center for Poverty Research
found that since 2009, unemployment insurance has been
responsible for a 25 percent reduction in poverty among children
who have had an unemployed parent.” Now children in similar
circumstances will have to endure life below the poverty line.
An alternative method of measuring poverty revealed that
California is the most impoverished state in the country, with
nearly a quarter of its residents living below the poverty line
due mostly to housing costs.
Under the study, a household of two adults and two children
earning less than about $35,000 would be considered below the
poverty line, said Ann Stevens, director for the Center for
Poverty Research at UC Davis. That number was increased from just
over $23,000 used in the official poverty measure in 2012.
“It is almost entirely the cost of housing that is used to make
the adjustment,” Stevens said. “It draws attention to the
combination of the resources that Californians have and the costs
that they face.”
A new way of measuring poverty reveals California has by far the
biggest share of people in economic despair, eclipsing states
such as Mississippi and Louisiana, when housing and other costs
The alternative yardstick, known as the supplemental poverty
measure, found nearly 2.8 million more people are struggling
across the country than the traditional benchmark shows.
“Anyone who has moved to California from somewhere else knows the
dramatic increase of the cost of living,” said Ann Stevens,
director for the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis. “It’s
not more surprising that California looks more impoverished. It
is really driven by the cost of housing. California is a very
expensive place to live.”
“Even if the economy was rebounding, I don’t think the official
poverty statistics show it that much,” said Ann Stevens, an
economics professor who directs the UC Davis Center for Poverty
Unemployment insurance gives many down-on-their-luck Americans
enough income to stay above the poverty line, but Stevens said
the official poverty measurements don’t count food stamps,
housing assistance and other programs that help people survive
but don’t give them cash income.
“They’re likely to be used to say, look, the war on poverty isn’t
working,” Stevens said of the latest numbers. “We know these
programs do have benefits, they just don’t show up in these basic