U.S. Census Bureau figures coming out earlier this week confirmed what the majority of Americans see every day; poverty is one the rise across the country. According to the report, 1 in 6 Americans is now living in poverty. This is the highest level since the downturn of the early 1990s. On a technical level, the recession that began with the collapse of the housing market and the ensuing financial meltdown concluded years ago. For the estimated 24 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed, the crisis never came to an end.
Politicians and pundits offered an unsurprising reaction. Democrats accused Republicans of smothering the recovery in its crib. Republicans accused President Obama of being in over his head. Dueling jobs plans were unveiled by the President, leading Republican presidential contenders, and House Speaker John Boehner. Taxes must be cut! Money must be spent! The back and forth that has come to define our national discourse sank its teeth into the national leadership’s reflection on the continuing jobs crisis.
Several commentators have begun pointing to the fact that policymakers are failing to acknowledge the big picture. The Brookings Institution, a leading think-tank for the center left, crunched the numbers and determined that the jobs crisis was a ticking time bomb throughout the course of the Bush administration. According to the Institution’s analysis, the downturn of the early 2000s brought about a stagnation in the job market that faded from view but continued undermining the country’s economic prospects.
Joel Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, also sought to provide a broader context for the Census Bureau’s latest poverty numbers. While acknowledging the current severity of the jobs crisis, he emphasized that this has been a systematic problem developing for decades. “This has been going on for a long time, people saw it coming, and our leaders chose to give tax cuts to billionaires,” he said.