Poverty declined in most states in 2017

By David Cooper and Julia Wolfe

The American Community Survey (ACS) data released today shows that the decline in the national poverty rate was felt in nearly every state. The poverty rate decreased in 42 states and the District of Columbia, with 20 of those states experiencing statistically significant declines. While there were slight increases in the poverty rate in seven states, the only statistically significant increases occurred in Delaware and West Virginia. These widespread declines are certainly good news, though most states have still not recovered to their pre-great-recession poverty rates and 40 states had higher poverty rates in 2017 than in 2000, when the economy was closer to full employment.

The national poverty rate, as measured by the ACS, fell 0.6 percentage points to 13.4 percent. This is 0.4 percentage points above the ACS poverty rate for the country in 2007, and 1.2 percentage points above the rate from 2000.

Between 2016 and 2017, the District of Columbia saw the largest decline in its poverty rate (-2.0 percentage points), followed by Idaho (-1.6 percentage points), Arizona (-1.5 percentage points), Maine (-1.4 percentage points), Kentucky (-1.3 percentage points), and Rhode Island (-1.2 percentage points). There were increases in poverty in Delaware (1.9 percentage points), West Virginia (1.2 percentage points), Alaska (1.2 percentage points), New Hampshire (0.4 percentage point), Hawaii (0.2 percentage point), South Carolina (0.1 percentage point), and Massachusetts (0.1 percentage point). In Wyoming, the rate remained essentially unchanged between 2016 and 2017.

Income growth at the national level and an increase in the number of jobs pulling workers off the sidelines accounted for a drop in the poverty rate in many states. While the federal minimum wage sits at $7.25, many states and localities have increased their minimum wages, which helps lift workers out of poverty. At the same time, government programs including Social Security, refundable tax credits, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are directly responsible for keeping tens of millions out of poverty across the country. A significant drop in the poverty rate for the second year in a row is a positive sign, but lawmakers should be careful to protect these recent gains with policies that raise wages for working families.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder