The ongoing recession has hit families hard and from many sides. From losing work hours or losing jobs, to the end of unemployment insurance payments, evictions and foreclosures, families are struggling to stay afloat. Throw in the rising costs of food, energy and medical services and people not traditionally thought to be dealing with poverty are now trying to find ways to weather this storm, which at ground level, is not projected to end before the fall of 2012.

William Spriggs, U.S. Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for policy, said this recession is on record as the most severe, citing how the across- the -board drop in consumption – including groceries – was devastating to local communities, increasing the loss of jobs.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data released in November, 14.7 percent of households – or 50 million people – in the United State suffered from what is called food insecurity in 2009. For Black households the rate is 24.9 percent.

In terms of age groups, Spriggs said the safety net of Social Security was crucial in mitigating the impact of the economy on senior citizens, but young adults were impacted in ways they hadn’t been before. And just as the impact of this recession is not distributed equally among other demographic groups, it’s also varying in its effect across the geographic regions of the country, he added.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more people in rural areas live in poverty than in metro areas, with the highest incidence of poverty among Blacks living in non-metro areas. Their report on the 2009 figures also shows that 40 percent of female-headed households in rural areas and 30.9 percent of female-headed households in metro areas are in poverty. These numbers also show that the largest percent of people in poverty are children, with 23.5 percent of those in rural areas and 20.2 percent of those in metro areas living in poverty.

But those statistics include many people, who before the onslaught of this economic depression, would not be considered “poor.”

“The people who are going to food banks now, who weren’t going to food banks five year ago, a lot of them are people on the edge of the job market,” said David Beckman, president of Bread for the World and World Food Prize laureate. “They had a job and had their hours cut back, they’ve been downgraded from a high- paying job and now they are working at a low-paying job.”

Noting that more people now have family, friends and neighbors that have been forced into poverty, he added, “More American voters understand that if people are poor it’s probably because of external circumstances … Public attitude towards poor people have become less negative because of the recession. That’s an encouraging thing.”

While the stimulus bill has kept things from getting worse, Beckman said, the country still hasn’t made a sustained effort to reduce poverty. Citing examples of other nations’ efforts to improve the lives of poor residents, he said the United States could have similar success, but, “We don’t have enough ‘give a damn.'”

“Even education isn’t saving us,” said Dr. V. Nenaji Jackson, Ph.D., a visiting professor in Howard University’s Department of Political Science. “Everybody is suffering in this economy except Wall Street.”

Dr. Jackson added that fixing poverty is not just a political issue, but one that every decision-maker in business, politics and the non-profit sector should be actively working against, but that has not been happening. ” has not been a priority for elites in America. I don’t think the new Congress is focused on poverty. They are focused on protecting the status of upper middle and upper class America,” she said. “They have not been paying attention to this country falling apart on their watch.”

Beckman talks about President Barack Obama’s promise to end childhood hunger – which is continuing to rise in this recession and can have long-term health repercussions for our population – by 2015 as an important goal to achieve. Jackson thinks the Obama administration can handle this problem but sees it as “overwhelming,” in part because they don’t understand how to handle poverty. ” needs to begin by hiring and utilizing staff members who are real experts on poverty and not just Ivy League elite,” she said. “This administration is not meeting poverty where it is. It is not looking at those types of grass root, hands on solutions to poverty. We have to deal with this on the micro level.”


Talibah Chikwendu

Special to the AFRO