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Relief Payments Result in 'Surprising' Poverty Decline

Official poverty rate rises, but 'supplemental' measure declines
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 14, 2021 11:05 AM CDT
Relief Payments Result in 'Surprising' Poverty Decline
In this July 7, 2021, file photo, homeless encampments are installed on an overpass of Highway 101 in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

(Newser) – The share of Americans living in poverty rose slightly as the COVID-19 pandemic shook the economy last year, but massive relief payments pumped out by Congress eased hardship for many, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

  • Official number: The official poverty measure showed an increase of 1 percentage point in 2020, indicating that 11.4% of Americans were living in poverty, per the AP. It was the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines.
  • An actual decline: However, a more complete supplemental measure of poverty, which takes into account income streams such as stimulus payments, actually showed that the share of people in poverty dipped after the aid was factored in.

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  • Real-world number: That revised poverty rate is 9.1%, down from 11.8% in 2019, which the Washington Post characterizes as a "surprising" decline. In the US, a family of four with an annual income of less than $26,200 is considered to be living in poverty.
  • One view: "For people who have a cynical view that nothing much government does works effectively, particularly on the poverty front, it will be harder to maintain that view," says public policy analyst Robert Greenstein of the Brookings Institution think tank.
  • The aid: Congress passed five bipartisan COVID-19 response bills last year, totaling close to $3.5 trillion and signed into law by then-President Trump. Though some of the federal aid last year was delayed for various reasons, from wrangling over costs to problems with distribution, on the whole it insulated American families from economic disaster that would have compounded the public health crisis. Some groups were left out, such as people not legally authorized to be in the country.
(Read more stimulus checks stories.)

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