The U.S. Census Bureau has released some disturbing new numbers measuring poverty in the United States. More than 46 million Americans are currently living below the poverty line – a whopping 15% of the U.S. population. Not since the early 1990’s has the percentage been this high. And even worse, the data show sharp declines in real income, a record number of people without health care insurance, and particularly harsh economic conditions for women.
Yet despite widespread media coverage of these alarming figures, the reaction from Congress has been surprisingly muted. Why?
To be sure, the current political environment is not conducive to Congress taking action. The talk in Washington is about debt reduction, not federal spending. Congress is sharply divided along partisan lines – Democrats control the Senate, Republicans the House – a recipe for policy gridlock. Democrats, thinking to the next presidential election, worry that pushing the issue may only further connect Obama with the struggling economy. And Congressional Republicans, an increasingly conservative party, do not want to lose the support of activist Tea Party groups, most of which are so opposed to government programs and regulations that they sometimes sound like the Anti-Federalists of the 1780’s.
But there are three bigger reasons that Congress is less likely to deal with poverty than it should.