Recession Hits the Educated and Experienced as the Poor Get Poorer

There has been a lot of talk about the economy, jobs and poverty on this blog, because these issues are so prevalent across gender, age, income-levels and educational background. We all know someone personally or indirectly affected by the current economic crisis. And while we certainly didn’t need any more information on the impact of this recession, we got some anyway on Tuesday from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The median household incomes fell last year to 1996 levels. Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economics professor said this was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, “This is truly a lost decade,” Mr. Katz said. “We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

To make matters even worst the poverty rate and the number of people in poverty increased in the first calendar year following the end of the last three recessions. For the recessions that ended in 1961 and 1975, the poverty rate decreased in the next full calendar year. The poverty level for 2011 was set at $22,350 (total yearly income) for a family of four. The National Women’s Law Center reports that the poverty rate among women rose to 14.5 percent last year, the highest rate in 17 years. The “extreme poverty rate” among women was the highest ever recorded, climbing to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009. “Extreme poverty” means your income is below half of the federal poverty line and by 2010, more than 7.5 million women fit that description.

These are just a few of the statistics from U.S. Census announcement this week. But as the recession continues, the faces and stories of people we know are becoming more than just statistical shrapnel of this crisis. While many of our parents and grandparents experienced decades of being frugal and working in blue-collar industries that are nearly nonexistent today (automotive, manufacturing, etc) they likely never imagined that their children or grandchildren would see the economic distress that they worked so hard to shield them from.

My brothers are active blue collar and union workers in St. Louis today their jobs seem fairly secure. At least they haven’t been laid off during this recession. Unfortunately a lot of my friends have not fared as well. From reporters, to lawyers, to public relations professionals, business executives, and entrepreneurs—this is our Great Recession. For years we enjoyed a life of educational advantage, of being courted by companies, recruited before you donned your cap and gown and moving to cities to start exciting new careers. Many thought that their education and experience would shield them from any imminent economic storm. But in this new economic terrain, there is not much shelter from the storm.

While my friends in healthcare and education seem to be doing better than others, the economic bogeyman has shaken the will of even those with the best educational preparation and the most extensive job experience. But the greatest challenge in this new economic reality for many seems to be change. For some that change may mean accepting foreclosure, moving from a larger home to a smaller apartment, taking less pay to be gainfully employed, moving to another city for a job, filing for bankruptcy or moving in with family or friends. The face of the growing poor and diminishing middle-class is becoming familiar.

My friends and I are using our best survival techniques to weather this financial tsunami that economists suggest might last until 2014. The good news is we are not in the U.S. Census Bureau poverty numbers YET. The bad news is with 46.2 million people living in poverty, 7.5 million women in “extreme poverty, 49.9 Americans without health insurance, some 14 million unemployed, 2.6 million who were available to work and looking for more than a year and another 977,000 who have literally given up looking for work, we may be destined to become statistics after all.

Can the American Jobs Act proposed by President Obama slow the downturn or turn it around? I hope so, with record levels of poverty, unemployment and underemployment, the fraying middle class and struggling small businesses, the coalition politics that elected President Obama in 2008 are absolutely critical for this recovery.

Beverly Isom, Blogging While Blue

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