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Emily Pickren

Statement attributed to Jim Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center.

WASHINGTON, September 12, 2017 — “The U.S. household poverty rate decreased in 2016, according to today’s Census Bureau annual release of income, poverty, and health insurance data. The poverty rate went from 13.5 percent in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016, a decline that returns the poverty rate (after almost a decade) to the statistical equivalent of the pre-recession rate in 2007.

While this progress is good, it merely underscores that poverty in this country remains much too high, particularly harming children. Federal and state governments need to be doing more to reduce poverty, not acting to undercut anti-poverty programs.

The same lesson is in last week’s U.S. Department of Agriculture food insecurity data, which showed that the 2016 household food insecurity rate was 12.3 percent, a small and not statistically significant decline from 12.7 percent in 2015. Progress here also has been too little and too slow.

Another key indicator of poverty is the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which extends the official poverty measure by taking into account many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The SPM rate was 13.9 percent in 2016, 0.6 percentage points lower than the 2015 rate of 14.5 percent.

In 2016, SNAP lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty, school lunches lifted 1.4 million out of poverty, and WIC lifted 300,000 out of poverty. These numbers, particularly for SNAP, likely understate the positive impacts of the program. Researchers have found that some respondents are reluctant to tell surveyors that they are receiving SNAP; adjusting the data to reflect the estimated actual receipt of SNAP substantially increases its anti-poverty effects.

Poverty and food insecurity threaten the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and our country. We need to increase efforts to bolster jobs and wages, as well as protect and strengthen our country’s safety net programs, including the federal nutrition programs.”

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The Food Research & Action Center is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States.