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The scene outside a homeless shelter in L.A. on Sept. 14th. (AP photo)

Why the new poverty numbers are bad news for tomorrow's America

ASK THIS | September 20, 2011

Before long people of color will be the majority in America but right now the outlook for many of them is grim. Poverty expert Judith Bell poses questions reporters should ask of elected officials and, on the local level, of demographers and other researchers.

By Judith Bell

We all know the headlines from the recent Census poverty data – it went up. Way up.

But at the intersection of economics and demographics, the picture is even bleaker.

By 2042, the majority of Americans will be people of color. The Latino population is set to dramatically increase – driven not by immigration but by first-, second-, and third-generation Latino-Americans having children. The black and Asian populations are increasing, too. These demographic changes reach across America – from Phoenix to Bangor, Dubuque to Raleigh – and will change communities and states in ways that we haven't seen since the early 20th century.

[Source: America's Tomorrow from PolicyLink on Vimeo.]

As these populations grow, however, little is being done to address the real disparities they face. In fact, the new data show in stark relief how their plights are getting ever more dire.

The poverty rate among Latinos jumped from 25.3% to 26.6%. The jump among African Americans was even worse – from 25.8% to 27.4%. While poverty among Asians overall is significantly lower (12.5%), other Census data shows that specific Asian populations like Hmong people (29.1%) and Bangladeshis (27.3%) face persistent and deep poverty. It is unconscionable to allow this many Americans to live in poverty.

And while the growing inequality in America is clearly bad news for poor people, it's actually terrible news for anyone interested in long-term growth and prosperity for the entire nation. A new report by the IMF showed that "equality appears to be an important ingredient in promoting and sustaining growth."

As we said in a paper co-written by PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress, economies stagnate without broadly shared opportunity.

These communities are our future. America succeeds only insofar as these communities succeed.

Some questions to ask elected officials:

Q. With the "doubling up" of young people in their parents' homes, is there a way to turn revitalized foreclosed properties into affordable housing for young people?

Q. Given the increasing numbers of poor children and families - and the increasing disparities between Latinos, Blacks, and Whites - what kinds of strategies, policies, and services should be targeted to improve outcomes for these specific communities?

Q. What role does the changing demography play in our efforts to ensure long-term prosperity? How can we support tomorrow's America with policies that are future-focused?

In your community, here are some questions to ask demographers and other researchers:

Q. What types of demographic changes are under way here? Where are the biggest changes happening? Which groups are increasing the most? Over what time period?

Q. What do these changes portend for our infrastructure - our housing, our schools, our transportation system and our service sector?

Q. Are there efforts to engage these growing communities and bring their voices and their leadership into community planning and decision-making? How is a new inclusive civic dialogue being nurtured?

Q. What is happening in our schools to prepare the leaders of tomorrow?

Posted by Margaret Riddell
09/21/2011, 04:40 PM

As i ran across your notes today, I also saw an interesting video that talks about our upcoming troubles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfFgmWCdEfY ...

I have pre-ordered the book... I know that there is a way to make a difference. We need to start now in changing the future.

Thank you for your great article.

Broadly shared opportunity?
Posted by P Brandt
09/23/2011, 06:42 PM

Great details on the symptoms. What is the remedy for more broadly shared opportunity? This seems to be the essential question. And, how force it onto a political system rigged with PACs to favor only one tiny part of that nation?

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