One in two Americans is living in poverty-or fall into the low-income bracket, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Such is striking evidence of just how bad the nation’s economic health remains.

“Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too ‘rich’ to qualify,” Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty, told the Associated Press.

The median household income in 31 states is lower than the national average, according to census data, while the poverty rate in Southern states continues to be higher than the national average. In fact, more than a fifth of Mississippi’s population lives in poverty, and a third of the state’s children are classified as poor.

“That’s a third of our future workplace growing up in poverty,” Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, told The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger. “Unless we address these staggering numbers, the economic potential of our state is capped.”

In a report, the United States Conference of Mayors detailed how joblessness is hurting their cities.

“Families, who once lived in middle-class homes, now find themselves without a roof over their heads. Young and old, Black and White, educated, and not, all are finding themselves in cold lines at missions, many for the first time in their lives,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said in a statement. “At the municipal level, as they are nationally, our needs are increasing while our resources continue to decrease.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus said that, for the time, they must help the vulnerable population as much as possible, including efforts to block some Republican lawmakers from cutting key social programs.

“Our most vulnerable have been asked to sacrifice time again, while corporations and the wealthy are required to give little or nothing,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said earlier this year. “I remain resolved to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and programs that benefit millions of Americans.”