46.2 million Americans live below the poverty line

According to the Census Bureau, the majority of Americans are truly suffering in this downturn economy. Figures released yesterday reflect that last year saw another 2.6 million people slip into poverty, bringing the grand total estimate to 46.2 million people, the highest number in the 52 years that the Bureau has been reporting.

But it’s not just those officially below the poverty line that are struggling. Median household incomes have fallen to levels last seen in 1997. Economist Lawrence Katz told The New York Times: “This is truly a lost decade. We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

Of course poverty in America is no equal opportunity destroyer. African Americans have been the hardest hit by the recession; 27 percent are poor. Hispanics are not far behind, with a poverty rate of 26 percent. And a whopping half of 25-34 year olds, excluding their parents’ income, are living in poverty. More children are living in poverty today than any year since 1962.

The suffering behind these numbers is undeniable–hungry bellies in inadequate classrooms, mothers and fathers feeling powerless to provide for their families, an undeniable sense that the American Dream is a sham for too many in this immorally unequal country. I’m hoping this bleak news will help Obama pass his jobs bill, but more than that, I hope it’s a wake up call for us all.

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