As the meaningless 2012 election farce segued into the meaningless Fiscal Cliff farce, lots of news has flown under the radar. Last week the Census Bureau released their 2011 Supplemental Poverty Measure, which is designed to make up for some defects in the traditional way the government counts The Poor. The Census data revealed that some 50 million citizens, 16.1% of all Americans, live in poverty, about 600,000 more than there were in 2010. Outside of a short Bloomberg story and a short Business Insider story, reporting of this happy statistic was rare in the mainstream media. I'll quote from both, starting with Bloomberg—
The ranks of poor Americans remained at a record high number last year, even after government-aid programs such as food stamps, housing vouchers and heating subsidies were included, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.
The bureau said 49.7 million Americans, or 16.1 percent, are in poverty, up from 49.1 million, or 16 percent, in 2010, according to a new measure the government is using to supplement the official figures released in September. The new method, designed to offer a more comprehensive measure of poverty, includes government aid as income, while subtracting child-care costs, work-related expenses and medical out-of-pocket fees.
The official measure, which includes only pretax cash income and is used to determine eligibility for aid programs, put the poverty rate at 15.1 percent, the bureau said.
The government safety net prevents many Americans from falling below the official poverty line. How many? Consider this Census Bureau chart, which was duplicated by the Business Insider with an explanation.
... by removing various forms of government assistance and revenue, we can get a clearer picture of how government assistance helps — and hurts...
Here are the results, compiled by Census researcher Kathleen Short:
Breaking this down...
- Without social security, 24.4 percent of the country would be impoverished — nearly 27 million more Americans than are already below the poverty line
- Without the earned income tax credit and the refundable portion of the child tax credit, about 20 percent of the country would be impoverished — nearly 12 million more Americans under the poverty line
- Food stamps and unemployment insurance are also keeping millions out of poverty
- Out-of-pocket medical (MOOP) costs are impoverishing about 12 million Americans
- Payroll taxes are impoverishing about 5 million Americans. Federal taxes are hitting hundreds of thousands
These numbers are crystal clear. Not only does government spending prop up the economy as a whole, it also keeps millions and millions of Americans out of poverty. On the other hand, taxes and the absence of comprehensive, affordable health care impoverishes millions of Americans.
I have written that the Fiscal Cliff doesn't matter to most of us because I don't believe major policy shifts will be forthcoming. On the other hand, if legislators poke some big holes in the government safety net in the name of Austerity, millions more Americans will go over their own fiscal cliff.
Arloc Sherman, senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said a half-dozen temporary measures enacted during the economic downturn have prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty.
They include tax credits, which kept 3.1 million people out of poverty; extensions in unemployment-insurance benefits, which helped 3.4 million; and expansions of the food stamp program, which aided 1 million people, he said.
Without government assistance, Sherman wrote in a November 2011 report, the national poverty rate in 2010 would have hit 28.6 percent.
“If significant federal cutbacks occur, the combination of those cuts, state budget cuts, and ongoing labor-market weakness may drive poverty still higher in the next few years and cause it to remain very high long after the economy recovers,” he wrote.
Arloc Sherman has estimated that 28.6% of Americans would be poor without government assistance. But who's counting? 25%, 30%, 35%, what's the difference? This is the 21st century, American version of Bishop Berkeley's philosophical conundrum. If a tree falls in the forest, does the falling tree make a sound if nobody is around to hear it?
If National Public Radio can't see The Poor, and therefore doesn't report on the Supplemental Poverty Measure, do these people really exist?
Regardless of these Deep Issues and NPR's ditzy, kiss-ass mediocrity, there are a lot of concealed Americans. A veritable boatload of the Inconspicuous, the Unseen, and the Insubstantial. Hell, that's a shitload of Invisible People, there's no doubt about it. The Walking Dead, ghosts among us, people who have been or could be tossed on the scrap heap of history.
Bonus Video — Invisible Older People, from the website Over 50 And Out Of Work