Economy Watch: U.S. Poverty Grows

3 min read

As a followup to last week's speech by President Obama on jobs, the administration sent the proposal--called the American Jobs Act--to Congress on Tuesday.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which made a statement Tuesday, the melancholy fact is that the number of Americans living below the poverty line was 46.2 million at the end of 2010, which is about 2.6 million more than it was at the end of 2009. Much of that increase, but probably not all, is attributable to the contraction in the labor market.

Certain groups have been particularly hard hit, such as black and Hispanic children, as well as young adults. Among the age group of 25- to 34-year-old men and women, 5.9 million of them were living with their parents in 2010, a 25.5 percent increase since 2007. The misery is also spread unevenly in geographic terms. Mississippi had the highest percentage of its population in poverty, at 22.7 percent, while New Hampshire was lowest, at 6.6 percent. Large states are suffering as well: 16.3 percent of Californians are now below the poverty line.

But not even holding a job is a guarantee of holding one’s ground, economically speaking. Also according to the Census Bureau, the inflation-adjusted U.S. median household income—that is, half of households earn more, half less—dropped 2.3 percent to $49,445 between 2009 and 2010, and 7 percent when comparing 2010 with 2000. A downward moving median means that a lot of incomes of a lot of households shifted downward.

President pushes jobs bill

As a followup to last week’s speech by President Obama on jobs, the administration sent the proposal—called the American Jobs Act—to Congress on Tuesday. There it likely be read with careful consideration and deliberated thoughtfully, or hammered apart with a meat tenderizer, depending on the ideological alignment of the Congress members who reviews it.

The president was in Ohio—a swing state—on Tuesday, doing what presidents do with their proposals, taking to the bully pulpit. He emphasized the upgrading and greening of schools, which is a $25 billion part of the package, and presumably a hard thing for his opponents to be against.

Among the less-publicized features of the jobs bill are the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, a plan to expand mortgage refinance, and, curiously enough, a provision to expand access to high-speed wireless, “as part of a plan for feeing up the nation’s spectrum,” according to the White House. That is, giving the FCC authority to sell off some of the spectrum now held by TV broadcasters, which would generate between $24 billion and $28 billion for the government, depending on who’s counting.

Pulse of commerce weak

The UCLA Anderson School of Management and Ceridian Corp. released the latest Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index on Tuesday, which is little-known indicator of economic activity that perhaps should be better known. The index is based on real-time diesel fuel consumption data for over-the-road trucking and serves as an indicator of the state and possible future direction of the U.S. economy.

The index pretty much agrees with the other indicators these days: it dropped 1.4 percent in August on a seasonally adjusted basis, following a 0.2 percent decline in July. “What we’re experiencing is the ‘new normal,’ where the U.S. economy will continue to stumble forward until a new growth engine is identified,” Ed Leamer, chief economist for the Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, noted in a statement. “Essentially, the economy is in need of an innovation burst.”

For the moment, however, Wall Street squeezed out some gains on Tuesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 44.73 points, or 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq advanced 0.91 percent and 1.49 percent, respectively.

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