Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

More Americans working their way out of poverty

Compassion | Job prospects, income, and the economy show positive growth
by Charissa Koh
Posted 9/18/19, 04:14 pm

The United States has the lowest poverty rate it has seen since 2001, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week. The overall poverty rate dropped from 12.3 percent in 2017 to 11.8 percent last year. The slight percentage drop finally brings the poverty rate below its 2007 number, marking further recovery from the Great Recession. 

Full-time work and wages are also on the rise, as evidenced by hiring sprees at large companies. On Tuesday, Amazon, the country’s second-largest employer, hosted job fairs in six major cities. The company is looking for 30,000 new workers by next year, from software engineers who can earn more than $100,000 a year to warehouse staff paid at least $15 an hour. In Dallas, hundreds turned out for the hiring event. Amazon plans to open an air cargo hub at Fort Worth Alliance Airport in October to help speed up its deliveries.

Across the country, full-time, year-round workers increased by 2.3 million in 2018, and the median earnings for women increased. The report also showed the percentage of poor families led by single mothers dropped to the lowest on record (24.9), but the poverty rate for families headed by married couples (4.7) was still almost five times lower. Median income for family households increased, and so did median income for non-family households.

“This continued decline in poverty is what you would expect at this point in the economic cycle, given strong job growth and very low unemployment rates,” wrote Matt Weidinger, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Census Bureau also reported that fewer Americans had health insurance in 2018. Decreases in Medicaid coverage drove the trend; the number of people who had private health insurance stayed about the same. Many blame President Donald Trump’s changes to the Affordable Care Act such as cutting subsidies for insurance and doing away with the individual health coverage mandate. But the strong job market could also be a factor as people move into higher-paying jobs and no longer qualify for Medicaid.

Angela Rachidi, also a fellow on poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told The World and Everything in It that the numbers encouraged her. “At the individual level … it’s the lowest official poverty rate that we’ve seen since the very strong economy of the late 1990s. In terms of child poverty, also the lowest,” she said. “You just go up and down the line, and I think it was just overwhelmingly positive news when it comes to poverty.”

Associated Press/Photo by Jessica Hill (file) Associated Press/Photo by Jessica Hill (file) A protester holds photos of people who died due to OxyContin and other opioids outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn.

A long goodbye to the Sacklers

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma kicked off its bankruptcy Tuesday with a court hearing to address logistics and make sure it can pay bills during the process. A week ago, the company said it would pay up to $12 billion over time to settle claims arising from abuse of its prescription opioids.

Overdoses from painkillers like OxyContin and illegal opioids have caused the deaths of more than 400,000 people in the United States in the past two decades. The settlement allows the company—and the Sackler family, who owns it—to avoid being held liable for the deaths, something not all plaintiffs agree on. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain will have to decide whether to allow lawsuits against the Sackler family to go forward. About half of the states that sued Purdue have rejected the settlement.

Some critics are also concerned about where the settlement money will come from. Under the tentative agreement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership, but the company would continue to sell OxyContin and other products, with the profits going toward the settlement.

“The settlement agreement basically requires the settlement payments to be made based on the future sales and profits of opioids,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said this week. “That doesn’t really feel to me like the right way to do this.” —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes A homeless camp in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday

Eyes on California

Members of the Trump administration visited Los Angeles last week to see for themselves the effects of the homelessness crisis. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated California had more than 129,000 homeless people at the end of 2018.

This summer, President Donald Trump blamed the “liberal establishment” for the homelessness crisis in major U.S. cities. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti invited the president in July to come visit. On Tuesday, Garcetti released a letter saying he looked forward to working with Trump. Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed similar sentiments in a statement the same day but also criticized Trump for cutting various government services.

But the state isn’t waiting for the White House’s recommendations. The California State Legislature passed statewide rent control legislation last week that also restricts evictions. Many blame runaway rent costs in West Coast cities for the growing homeless population. But like the similarly plagued Seattle, California may be missing the root problems by treating homelessness as merely a housing issue. —R.L.A.

Associated Press/Photo by Fernando Llano Associated Press/Photo by Fernando Llano A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer gives instructions to migrants on International Bridge 1 as they depart Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, on Tuesday.

Asylum acceptances likely to plunge

The Trump administration over the weekend began enforcing new rules on who gets asylum at the southern U.S. border.

The so-called third-country rule, which requires migrants to apply for asylum in the first country they pass through on their way to the United States, has been on again and off again since President Donald Trump announced it in July. Last week, the Supreme Court allowed its enforcement while lawsuits against the policy wind their way through lower courts. A spokeswoman for the agency that conducts asylum interviews said the policy will be retroactive to July 16.

The rule will affect almost all migrants waiting at the southern border, where more than 99 percent of those apprehended come from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. The United States will automatically reject their asylum applications if they don’t apply first in Mexico and any other countries they traveled through on their way. Rejection means fast-track deportation back to their home countries. —R.L.A.

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a reporter for WORLD.

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  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Thu, 09/19/2019 06:29 pm

    I wonder if the current president has anything to do with all the good economic news?  Too bad he didn't resign in the final stretch before the election as World Magazine editors called for, surely giving Hillary the White House.  I also wonder if the economic news would be this good with a democrat as president?  

    So quick to give Trump the nod when it is anything negative, just can't bring yourself to mention his name when it's good news for our country, like the prolife judges on the supreme court.

  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 09/20/2019 09:55 am

    In a long good by to Slackers - The $12 billion penalty sounds like a lot, but if it was paid out for each of the 400,000 plus who died, that would be less than $30,000 for each life.

  • Just Me 999
    Posted: Mon, 09/23/2019 11:06 pm

    The Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. relied on revised criteria for poverty to estimate in 2018 that the actual number of poor Americans could be as high as 140 million people. That translates to a poverty rate as high as 43 percent.

    Official poverty data for 2018 indicate there’s cause for concern despite the reported upturn. The median household income was – $63,179, statistically the same as 2017.

     “Household income growth significantly slowed again in 2018, following a marked deceleration in 2017,” said Elise Gould, senior economist for the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, in a statement.

    “While any reduction in poverty or increase in income is a step in the right direction, most families have just barely made up the ground lost over the past decade,” Gould added.