8 Million Have Slipped Into Poverty Since May as Federal Aid Has Dried Up

on Oct15
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Black people and Latinos are more than twice as likely as white people to be poor, the new data shows. Both minority groups disproportionately work in industries hard-hit by the recession and may face barriers to aid. Black people disproportionately live in Southern states with low benefits, and some Latinos are disqualified because they lack legal status.

Both studies also found child poverty rising at a rapid rate, with an additional 2.5 million children falling below the poverty line since May. Research shows that even short stays in poverty can cause children lasting harm.

Jenny Santiago, a single mother in Pontiac, Mich., fears her household’s worsening finances creates new peril for her four children, ages 8 to 13. A driver for takeout services, Ms. Santiago quit work when schools closed in March to to watch her children. The stimulus check and $600 unemployment bonus provided “a nice chunk” of help, she said, “but it didn’t last forever.”

Now that her income has dwindled, she trims her meals to feed the children, and her landlord is trying to evict her. But she cannot work without child care, and her children feel her anxiety. “It’s scary,” Ms. Santiago said. “I’ve got to keep a roof over their head. They know when I’m stressed out.”

Both studies showed poverty started to rise before the unemployment bonus expired in July, suggesting the stimulus checks, which arrived earlier, played an important role.

Optimists might note that the Columbia study showed poverty fell in September. That could be a sign that hardship is easing. But Mr. Parolin, the Columbia researcher, said that he “wouldn’t make too much of a one-month trend” when levels remain elevated. And the Chicago-Notre Dame study found poverty in September continued to grow.

Officially, the government measures poverty on an annual basis and publishes its estimates in arrears — this year’s rate will not be released until next fall. To provide policymakers more timely information, both teams use monthly census data to project more up-to-date trends.

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