Census Bureau: American poverty rate is down, but it's not all good news

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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New stats from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the American poverty rate declined for the first time since 2006 -- 14.5 percent of the total population, down from 15 percent in 2012 -- and that the number of American children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million.

Good news, right?

Well, not necessarily. The Census Bureau data also shows that the overall number of American poor didn't budge, and that income inequality hasn't improved.

So what, if anything, do the numbers tell us about poverty in America in 2014?

NCR asked Melissa Boteach of the Half in Ten campaign at the Center for American Progress.

The poverty rate may have "nudged down," Boteach said, "but we are nowhere close to being at pre-recession levels."

Sadly, "progress might have been greater had Congress not taken us backwards in terms of policy," she said. "You saw last year sequestration for several months, which undermined job growth and slammed a lot of working families. You saw unemployment insurance benefits scaled back. You saw SNAP cuts go into effect in November 2013."

And as for those 1.4 million children, now technically living out of poverty, are they actually out of the woods?

"Most of the kids are still living in economic insecurity," Boteach said. "The poverty threshold is much too low to capture the share of families that are really struggling to make ends meet, and if you look at twice the poverty line, you see a much higher line of children living in households that are struggling. Under 18 years old, it's 42.6 percent."

The bottom line?

"The data shows that we have a long, long way to go in terms of boosting wages and incomes," Boteach said.

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