EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 A.M. EST, THURSDAY, DEC. 15 – Zenobia Bechtol, 18, and her seven-month-old baby girl Cassandra play in the dining room of her mother’s apartment, where they live, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011, in Austin, Texas, Friday, Dec. 14, 2011, after her and her boyfriend were evicted from their apartment after he lost his job. Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans _ 1 in 2 _ have now fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low-income. The latest census data paint a bleak picture of a shrinking middle class amid persistently high unemployment and a fraying government safety net. (AP Photo/Erich Schlegel)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.
The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.
“Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too ‘rich’ to qualify,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.
“The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal,” he said. “If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years.”
Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax reduction, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income Login to read more