A Closer Look at Poverty Under the Trump Administration

We must continue the fight to end poverty and advance racial justice.

Poverty matters to all Americans.

Upward mobility is a cornerstone of the American Dream. For decades, the federal government has played a vital role in helping millions escape poverty. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is now aggressively pushing a harmful agenda to dismantle programs that support economic security and upward mobility for millions.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on income and poverty in 2017 in the United States. These data tell a story that differs from the rosy economic picture often touted by the Trump administration.

The middle class is just scraping by.

Median income — the income of the average American — rose by 5.1% in 2015 and 3.1% in 2016, but growth slowed to just 1.8% in 2017. What’s more, median income did not increase in 2017 because of economic prosperity. Rather, workers are putting in more hours just to scrape by as wages stagnate. This is particularly true for low-wage workers; once adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage is 23% lower than it was 40 years ago. Overall, earnings for full-time, year-round workers declined in 2017.

Millions of Americans live in poverty.

While the percentage of Americans living in poverty declined from 12.7% to 12.3% in 2017, the total number of people living in poverty remained the same — about 39.7 million. Worse, almost half of all impoverished Americans are living in deep poverty, meaning that they have incomes below 50% of the federal poverty threshold, or less than $12,430 per year for a family of four. And almost 30% of the population is considered “near-poor,” having income less than 200% of the federal poverty line.

Marginalized populations are hurting the most.

Poverty affects millions of Americans of all races, ethnicities, ability statuses, and genders. But it disproportionately affects families and communities that are already marginalized. Just 8.7% of whites are poor, compared with 21.2% of black Americans and 18.3% of Hispanics. This means that, simply by virtue of being born a person of color, one is more than twice as likely to experience poverty in the United States as their white counterpart. Moreover, 10.4% of blacks and 7.6% of Hispanics lived in deep poverty in 2017, versus 4.9% of white Americans. And Black Americans did not see the same modest income gains as white Americans.

Children continue to have the highest poverty rate of any age group. While children make up only 22.7% of the American population, they represent over 32% of all people in this country experiencing poverty. In 2017, children of color were three times more likely to experience poverty than white children. Also unchanged was women’s share of the cut — they only earned 80% that of the male counterparts.

Health insurance coverage stagnates.

For the first time since 2010, the uninsured rate did not improve; 8.8% of Americans didn’t have health insurance in 2017, the same as in 2016. Most states that expanded Medicaid saw no significant decrease in health insurance coverage. However, in states that did not expand Medicaid, the uninsured population rose 0.6%. This stalled progress shows that the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — which hurts people living in poverty the most — is working.

In a worrisome development that will further marginalize hard-to-reach populations, the Trump Administration has slashed healthcare enrollment assistance funding by 85% since 2016. In-person enrollment assistance, like that funded by navigator grants under the ACA, has been shown to increase the chances that historically underserved communities will enroll. Enroll America found that African Americans and Latinos were 43 percent more likely to seek in-person assistance than their white counterparts.

Public benefits programs lift up people experiencing poverty.

Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which considers the effects of public benefit programs that are not part of the official poverty measure, the Census Bureau found that in 2017, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as Food Stamps, lifted 3.4 million Americans , including 1.5 million children, out of poverty. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and state general assistance programs lifted 544,000 Americans out of poverty, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) lifted 3.2 million people from poverty. Refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit lifted 8.3 million people out of poverty. If Congress and the Trump Administration really want to bolster the U.S. economy and uplift people from poverty, they will continue to fund the public assistance programs that work.

Nevertheless, the Trump Administration has proposed cuts to social programs that will worsen poverty.

Both the President’s 2019 proposed budget and the House Budget Committee’s party-line vote on June 21 would make major cuts to SNAP, TANF, SSI, and Medicaid. These are the very programs that have helped to decrease poverty thus far. The Trump administration supports the House version of the Farm Bill, which would cut 2 million Americans, including 469,000 households with young children, from receiving benefits. Moreover, threatened changes to the public charge rule would harm millions by causing immigrant families to forgo assistance. If these cuts are implemented, poverty will rise.

We must continue the fight to end poverty and advance racial justice.

Don’t let the administration fool you — they are allowing the wealthiest to benefit from corporate greed while the middle class and the poor suffer. Let’s oppose President Trump and House Republicans’ efforts to slash public benefits programs and sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Together, we can support the Senate version of the Farm Bill and encourage continued funding of public benefits programs that work. We can defend the Affordable Care Act’s coverage provisions that protect people in poverty and people with pre-existing conditions.

We know what works to lift families out of poverty. Let’s choose policies that ensure equity and opportunity for all.

About the Author

Stephani Becker
Stephani Becker
Stephani Becker
Associate Director of Healthcare Justice


More Information

Our laws and policies must support people by ensuring fair work at a living wage and by providing the income supports families need to be successful.

Systemic inequities and the legacy of structural racism make it harder for low-income people and people of color to achieve financial stability.

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