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Census Bureau report underestimates roles policy, public welfare play in mitigating poverty, KU researchers say

Thursday, September 17, 2015

LAWRENCE — The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual poverty report Wednesday, showing that about 46.7 million Americans live in poverty. That number represents about 14.8 percent of the total population, a statistically insignificant change from 2014’s report.

The statistics are based on a definition of poverty that has been in use for decades, but it underestimates the roles that policies and public welfare programs play in mitigating poverty, said Terri Friedline, assistant professor of social welfare at the University of Kansas. Friedline and Stacia West, doctoral candidate at the School of Social Welfare, are available to speak with media about the report, poverty in the U.S. and how wealth-building and housing policies may help mitigate poverty and its effects.

The Census Bureau also released statistics that considers the role that housing subsidies can play in reducing poverty. For example, without taking housing subsidies into consideration, the poverty rate would have increased to 16.2 percent. Those subsidies are especially important to families that are already financially vulnerable, including the nearly one-third of single mothers raising children in poverty. It is both encouraging and troubling to see the relationship between housing subsidies and poverty rates, the researchers said.

“Affordable housing programs can have a considerable and positive impact on poverty but continue to deteriorate due to inadequate federal funding,” West said.

West studies how affordable housing can help families in and on the brink of poverty. A fellow with the Center on Assets, Education and Inclusion in the School of Social Welfare, she explores housing instability, particularly among single mothers and renters, community approaches to address homelessness and the outcomes of anti-poverty initiatives, including Individual Development Accounts and emergency savings programs for economically disenfranchised groups.

Friedline is a faculty director of Financial Inclusion within the Center on Assets, Education and Inclusion and a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C. Her research examines economic justice for young people, particularly those growing up in poverty. She studies Children’s Savings Accounts, known as CSAs, as a gateway to the economic world, an alternative or complement to credit for achieving economic goals, and as a way to accumulate wealth.

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