There are just some records you don?t want to break. Unfortunately, the U.S. has shattered two of them, according to new numbers released this week by the Census Bureau. The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans is the widest on record and there are now more poor Americans today than in any time since the bureau has measured poverty. The Associated Press reports:
“Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more,” said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. “More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy.”?The poverty gap between young and old has doubled since 2000, due partly to the strength of Social Security in helping buoy Americans 65 and over. Child poverty is now 21 percent compared with 9 percent for older Americans. In 2000, when child poverty was at 16 percent, elderly poverty stood at 10 percent. Safety nets are helping fill health gaps. The percentage of children covered by government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program jumped to 37 percent, or 27.6 million, from 24 percent in 2000. That helped offset steady losses in employer-sponsored insurance.?
How ironic that as evidence continues to show, over and over again, how critically important our nation?s safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare are for millions of Americans, so many in Washington continue to target these very same programs for cuts. And at what cost to millions of working Americans? The Center for American Progress addressed the issue of elderly poverty and seniors economic security in ?The Not-So-Golden Years?:
?Social Security is tremendously effective in helping seniors and their families stay out of poverty. Its benefits kept 14 million elderly Americans out of poverty in 2009. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated in an analysis of 2008 Census data that the elderly poverty rate would actually exceed 40 percent in most states without Social Security benefits. The majority of people kept out of poverty by Social Security are elderly, but the Census data shows almost a third of those kept out of poverty are under 65 and include more than 1 million children.?
The fact that America?s poor are worse off and adding more to their ranks while the wealthiest get richer can?t continue to be ignored in our national economic debate; particularly as some in Washington argue now?s the time to cut safety net programs for working Americans while extending tax cuts to the wealthy.