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Poverty, however, remains at one of its highest levels since 1965. It was 17.3 percent that year, but declined to 14.7 in 1966, and it's been 15 percent or more in only five years since: 1982, 1983, 1993, and the last two years. The rate was 11.3 percent in 2000, and has risen steadily the last 11 years.
The nonpartisan Center for American Progress points out that poverty has trended upward since 2000 in both good times and bad—that is, even when the economy has been recovering during that period, the benefits haven't trickled down to low-income families as they had historically.
The Center also notes a "particularly troubling trend" in child poverty: 25 percent of children under five live in poverty, including nearly twice as many black children as white children (42.7 percent versus 21.8 percent).
The poverty line for a family of four, set by the Office of Management and Budget, is now $23,021. The data released this morning shows that 9.8 percent of the nation's children are living in "deep poverty"—their family's income is less than half of the poverty line.
In 2008, the Democratic Party platform vowed an assault on poverty: "Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years." Democrats this year have again promised to make the fight against poverty a "national priority," but the ten-year goal is gone from the platform. We called the Democratic National Committee on Monday to ask why, and are still waiting for a response. Republicans, in their platform, pledge to reform "the entire system of public assistance . . . to ensure that it promotes work."
Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and professor Cornel West, cohosts of a national public radio show, today begin a four-day "poverty tour" that will take them to Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida. They hope to raise the profile of poverty in the presidential campaign, which is why they're going to swing states. "We need a president who makes this a front-burner issue," Smiley told the Root, an online magazine, yesterday.
West told the magazine: "We are quite clear that Barack Obama is better than Mitt Romney when it comes to issues of poverty and poor people. At the same time, we acknowledge that neither candidate has a good record in poverty—because poor people have not in any way been a priority in the Obama administration."