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Editorial: Another insult to the poor

New York Times, Sept. 19, 2013
In what can be seen only as an act of supreme indifference, House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday that would drastically cut federal food stamps and throw 3.8 million Americans out of the program in 2014.
The vote came two weeks after the Agriculture Department reported that 17.6 million households did not have enough to eat at some point in 2012 because they lacked the resources to put food on the table. It came two days after the Census Bureau reported that 15 percent of Americans, or 46.5 million people, live in poverty.
These numbers were basically unchanged from 2011, but in a growing economy steady rates of hunger and poverty amount, in effect, to backsliding. Cutting food stamps would accelerate the slide. Food stamps kept four million people out of poverty last year and kept millions more from falling deeper into poverty. Under the House Republican bill, many of these people would be impoverished.
The struggling middle class is also faring poorly. Though the unemployment rate dropped to a low of 7.8 percent last year from a high of 9.1 percent in 2011, median household income was virtually unchanged, at $51,017. In a healthy economy, income would rise when unemployment falls. But in today’s weak economy, much of the decline in the jobless rate is not due to new hiring, but to a shrinking work force — the very definition of a feeble labor market in which employed people work for years without raises and unemployed job seekers routinely end up in new jobs that pay less than their previous ones.
Even so, congressional Republicans have shown no inclination to end the automatic budget cuts that, if left in place, will lead to an estimated loss of 900,000 jobs in the coming year, keeping poverty high and incomes stagnant. In addition, there seems to be little Republican appetite for renewing federal unemployment benefits — a lifeline for millions of unemployed Americans — when they expire at the end of 2013.
It is nothing new that poor people are stuck and those in the middle class are struggling. The poverty rate, though steady last year, has worsened or failed to improve in 11 of the last 12 years. The latest numbers would have been worse but for “doubling up.” There are currently 10.1 million adults age 25 to 34 who are not in school and who live with parents or others who are not spouses of cohabitating partners. If they were on their own, 43 percent of them would fall below the poverty line, which last year was $11,945 for someone under age 65.
Similarly, while median household income held steady last year, it was still lower by 8.3 percent, or $4,600, (measured in 2012 dollars) than in 2007, before the recession. And the longer the historical perspective, the more dire the situation. From 2000 to 2012, median income for working-age households headed by someone under age 65 (again in 2012 dollars) fell almost $7,500, from nearly $65,000 to just under $57,500, a decline of 11.6 percent.
Against that backdrop, there is no justification for savaging the safety net and decimating the budget.

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