Poverty Reduction in 2015: A Network Behind the Numbers

On Tuesday this week, the U.S. Census bureau released its annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance in the U.S. The results were encouraging – namely a significant drop in the poverty rate between 2014 and 2015. The CSBG network has been on the forefront of efforts to combat poverty and will be critical going forward as the data reveals that there is still more work to be done.

The Numbers

There are three main takeaways from the Census bureau report: poverty declined, incomes rose, and more Americans were covered by health insurance. The poverty rate for families and the number of families in poverty were 10.4 percent and 8.6 million in 2015, a decrease from 11.6 percent and 9.5 million families in 2014. That’s about 1 million fewer families living in poverty – a figure that represents the largest one-year drop since 1968. Even using a different calculation of the poverty rate, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, poverty still declined over the one year period. Nearly all groups of Americans shared in the reduction of poverty. Poverty declined for African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asians, as well as for whites. Improvement was seen among children as well, with about one million fewer children living in poverty and the child poverty rate declining from 21.1 percent in 2014 to 19.7 percent in 2015.

The Network

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) supports a state-administered, nationwide network of local organizations whose mission is to reduce the causes and effects of poverty in the low-income communities which they serve. The CSBG in its current form was created in 1981, but traces its roots back to 1964 when the Economic Opportunity Act established the War on Poverty. The CSBG network, made up of over 1,000 local Community Action Agencies (CAA), provided services to low-income families, individuals, and vulnerable communities in 99 percent of U.S. counties during FY 2014.

Individuals and families aided by CAAs face poverty and economic insecurity in varying degrees, across family and community level domains ranging from health and housing to employment and education. In FY 2014, CAAs addressed 33.3 million conditions of poverty that create barriers to economic security. The 15.9 million individuals served by CAAs in 2014 represent nearly 34 percent of the 46.7 million Americans in poverty according to the most recent Census data.

Still Work to Do

While the Census report shows that significant gains in the fight against poverty have been made, there is still more work to do. The Center for Law and Social Policy notes that even with the 2015 improvements, the child poverty rate remained at one in five children, a rate higher than before the Great Recession. Racial disparities are still striking, with 24.1 percent of African Americans and 21.4 percent of Latinos living in poverty, compared to 9.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The poverty rate among women age 25 to 34 was 6.1 percentage points higher  than men in the same age group. Additionally, to be considered poor in 2015, a family of two parents and two kids had to have an income of about $24,000 or less. Researchers have pointed out that this may not be an adequate measure of hardship and that a family of four actually needs about $50,000 per year to have an adequate standard of living.

The new Census report highlights the benefits that come from a strong federal investment in an established network working to combat poverty. However, the data also reveals that the American economy and social safety net is still not working for everyone. The members of the CSBG network will be key partners in building on the gains already achieved and addressing the disparities that still persist in the fight against poverty.