Here’s a sobering dose of reality: Poverty in America has risen to the 27 percent mark in the last half-decade and, perhaps worse, the prospects for our nation’s poorest won’t necessarily get better as the economy picks up. It’s not news many want to hear, but we’re glad a group of researchers at Indiana University were gutsy enough to release it. That’s why we’re making the academic team from IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs—steered by one of its deans, John Graham, no less—our Truthdiggers of the Week.
With great recessions come great responsibilities for those who have the ability to inform the public or correct the situation. And although leaders on Wall Street and in the White House may have let us down repeatedly since Americans were suddenly obliged to learn about the dangers of subprime mortgages and other feats of sketchy financial wizardry, we need to hear even the worst news served straight up. Without an accurate read on our prospects, we’re liable to take more chances in the future while missing the lessons of the recent past.
Enter Graham and his cohorts, who flexed their scholarly abilities for their study, “At Risk: America’s Poor During and After the Great Recession.” They offer a forceful correction to any airy-fairy gloss jobs about the last six years or about what the upcoming months are likely to bring.
“The Great Recession has left behind the largest number of long-term unemployed people since records were first kept in 1948. More than 4 million Americans report that they have been unemployed for more than 12 months,” said the report.
“One of the big surprises is that poverty in the United States is likely to continue to increase even as the economic recovery unfolds,” said Graham. “The unique feature of the great recession is not just the high rate of unemployment, but the long duration of unemployment that millions of Americans have experienced. [For] a lot of these long-term unemployed, the job that they had won’t exist when they go back in to the labour market.”
Graham said that many of those who once held well-paid jobs will be forced to settle for lower paying work, trapping some in a permanent cycle of poverty.
“As a consequence they will be poor or near poor for a substantial period of time,” he said.
In other words, these interrelated phenomena of diminishing opportunities and increasing numbers of jobless competitors dictate the daily realities of a growing percentage of the population. Contrast this picture with the refrain repeated by the likes of Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke that the recession might have, maybe, sort of ended already.
Nothing like top-notch scholarship to give the lie to that reality-defying line, which some on Capitol Hill seem to believe will take if they just keep saying it. Thus, we directed Truthdig readers to the Indiana University study, released Wednesday, and do so again for this week’s Truthdigger feature, for the sake of all our futures.
Read the full text of the study here.
AP / Erich Schlegel
Zenobia Bechtol, 18, and 7-month-old daughter Cassandra in their cramped living quarters—the dining room of Bechtol’s mother’s apartment in Austin, Texas. Bechtol, who delivers pizza for minimum wage, was forced to move back home with her baby and boyfriend when the latter lost his job.