The current economic crisis (punctuated with the loss of 60,000 jobs in one day!) is generating financial insecurity for people at most income levels, swelling the ranks of the poor and working poor in this country. What about for the most vulnerable people, those who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness? Several recent reports have taken to measuring “deep” or “extreme” poverty to get at this. Defined as persons living with incomes at half the official poverty thresholds (that translates to just $5,200 for an individual and $10,600 for a family of four – hardly enough to meet even basic needs of food and shelter), this poverty measurement can be helpful in analyzing conditions for the most vulnerable in our society.
According to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the current recession could produce up to 6 million new entrants into deep poverty – including about 1 million families with children. The National Alliance to End Homelessness uses the extreme poverty measurement to predict that the recession could lead to an additional 1.5 million people experiencing homelessness in the next two years in the U.S. Closer to home, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles recently released a research brief showing that, according to the 2007 American Community Survey, nearly 600,000 people in L.A. County live in extreme poverty, a number that has surely risen given the recent job loss and financial insecurity in California. The brief also shows that the number of people receiving food stamps has risen sharply over the last year, growing to nearly 700,000 by the end of October.
With historically-low unemployment levels but with growth in low-wage jobs over recent times, a major challenge has been working poverty, i.e. people who are working but making just barely enough to survive. But with unemployment rates rising sharply and businesses slashing jobs or failing altogether, extreme poverty – typified by rising hunger and homelessness – could be our biggest challenge over the foreseeable future.