(CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty
rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median family incomes
ticked up 1.8 percent to nearly $61,400.
government reported that 12.3 percent of Americans, or about 39.7 million people,
lived in poverty. In 2016, the poverty rate stood at 12.7 percent, about 40.6
million. All demographic groups -- white, black, Hispanic and Asian -- saw declines
in poverty last year.
in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the country's poverty rate stood at
15.9 percent, about 48.4 million people, in 2011.
Charities officials nationwide welcomed the news but also told Catholic News Service
that the positive trend has not meant that they are serving fewer low-income
families and individuals.
in some communities the lack of affordable housing has exacerbated income
inequality as low-wage earners, the unemployed and some minorities get priced
out of burgeoning high-end housing markets.
not ready to release the party balloons because there are some real needs still
out there," said Robert
McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Spokane in
data is at least mildly promising, but I think there is a very big problem in
our country with the income inequality gap," McCann said. "This is
what Pope Francis talks about, for good reason, because the gap regardless of
poverty statistics seems to be growing."
Laura Roesch, chief executive
officer of Catholic Social Service of the Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio,
said the turnout at the agency's emergency food pantry has remained steady in
recent years, which means staffers have been busy. She said low-wage jobs are the culprit.
people who are working who can't get by and at the end of the month, money gets
tight," Roesch said. "We have not seen the drop we had been hoping to
see in the emergency food programs."
an economy that once had a strong manufacturing component, Dayton has been
slower to recover from the Great Recession. Roesch has seen some expansion in technology
jobs, but that most new jobs in the agency's service area are in low-paying
clients are working, but they aren't getting by because they aren't getting paid
as much," she said.
low-wage earners that Catholic Charities USA has been addressing in meetings
with members of Congress. The agency has worked overtime promoting federal
support for important social safety-net programs as well as the Earned Income
Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, two measures that benefit moderate- and low-income
Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, has been a top priority as
Congress hurries to finalize a new five-year farm bill by the end of September.
continued funding for SNAP and other programs, up to 27 million people would fall
into poverty, said Dominican
Sister Donna Markham, the agency's president and CEO.
worries Sister Markham and the nationwide network of service providers is the
deep cuts in spending for housing and social services, energy assistance, job
training, health care and education in the fiscal year 2019 budget proposed by
the White House.
Markham said she believes the proposed cuts are designed to help reduce a steeper
budget deficit resulting from the 2017 tax cut bill.
those cuts happen, then we're back at square one," she told CNS.
Census Bureau data showed that Mississippi had the highest percentage of
residents living in poverty of any state at 19.8 percent last year, down from
20.8 percent in 2016. Right behind are Louisiana and New Mexico, both at 19.7
percent. For the record, in Puerto Rico the poverty rate stood at 44.4 percent.
John Lunardini, chief operating
officer at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi,
told CNS the gains the Census Bureau recorded had "not yet" reached
the agency's urban and rural clients.
amount of phone calls we receive from people seeking direct-service assistance
like food and help with light bills have not decreased. The people who are
homeless have not decreased," he said.
you talk about a 1 percent decrease in the state with the highest poverty, it's
not a lot of people. Unemployment may be lower in Mississippi, but does that
mean living wage jobs have gone up?" he asked.
the lack of affordable housing is causing emergency shelters to fill and stay
filled. Even people and families with a regular, if low, income have turned to shelters
Denver, the unemployment rate has hovered between 2.5 percent and 3 percent for
a year, but that has not offered any consolation to people in search of
affordable housing, said Michael
Sinnett, vice president for shelters and community outreach at Catholic
Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver.
degree of people experiencing homelessness in the Denver area continues to
grow. We're creating homelessness because of rising rental costs," Sinnett
not because they are poverty-stricken," he added. "They just can't
pay those rents. They have no savings and it puts them on the street."
managers at the agency's Samaritan House shelter on the eastern edge of downtown
have a difficult time finding residents housing within its standard goal of 120
days, Sinnett said, because "affordable housing is very difficult to find."
to the growing need for affordable housing nationwide is a shift in priority by
the Department of Housing and Urban Development from funding emergency shelters
to rapid rehousing and permanent housing options.
example, Pam Terrell,
community services division director at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Joliet,
Illinois, said there are not enough housing units in the seven counties
of the diocese to meet the existing need and no solution is on the horizon.
said the HUD shift "sounds wonderful in theory," but that the new criteria
the federal agency has put in place "doesn't match up with what the
greatest needs are."
a result you will see more people on the streets."