The national poverty report produced by the Census Bureau in September showed the poverty rate to have fallen from 14.8% to 13.5% between 2014 and 2015. This was much welcomed news after more than a decade of very little improved economic opportunity for those at the lower end of the wage and income distribution.
While most attention at the time was paid to the drop in the poverty rate, the report’s appendices indicate the number of poor persons in the U.S. fell by more than 3.5 million from 2014 to 2015. Recent progress on poverty should bolster support for the safety net and encourage us to do more.
Safia Samee Ali’s recent piece for NBC News captures the challenges confronting low-income residents of cities today. Factors, such as gentrification and rising rents, push families out of their homes and neighborhoods in cities. At the same time many of the suburban destinations awaiting families leaving the city do not necessarily foster access to greater opportunity.
Recently, the Furman Center at NYU posted a scholarly give-and-take exchange around issues of suburban poverty, segregation, and the safety net as part of its series The Dream Revisited. Following insight and commentary on race and suburbanization by Alan Berube, Georgette Phillips, and Thomas B. Harvey, my piece in this series turned to how local suburban safety nets are composed.
Recently, I published a short monograph on suburban poverty with a UW doctoral student, Sarah Charnes Paisner. Our monograph examines the suburbanization of poverty in metropolitan areas with a particular focus on the experience of the United States. Discussion highlights key trends and likely causes of suburban poverty and provides an overview of various attempts to classify heterogeneity across suburbs.
As part of a larger set of projects exploring local minimum wage laws, my Minimum Wage Study team at the University of Washington put out a report examining employer and worker perspectives at baseline. There are several interesting findings, even as we just are learning of the broader impact and consequences.
As the income inequality discussion continues to simmer across the country, municipal minimum wage ordinances have become hot topics of conversation in many cities. In January 2016, Seattle will implement its second step-up in the local minimum wage in 9 months, reaching $13 for many employers in the city and edging closer to a $15 an hour minimum that will apply to most firms by 2019. San Francisco will reach a $15 an hour minimum by July 2018. Yet cities as diverse as Birmingham, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Louisville have enacted or proposed similar minimum wage laws. It is too early to discern true impact of these local wage ordinances, but speculation abounds regarding whether or how the higher wage will affect firms and the earnings of low-wage workers.
My 2009 book, “Out of Reach,” examined why it can be hard for poor families to get help from the safety net. One critical barrier is the lack of information about local program resources and nonprofit social service organizations. Good information is key to finding help, but it’s also important if we are to target resources effectively and assess if program investments were successful.
In this Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin webinar, Alex Murphy from the University of Michigan and I discuss the changing geography of poverty in the US.