A huge government aid package approved in response to the coronavirus pandemic lifted millions of Americans out of poverty last year, even as the official poverty rate rose slightly, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
The official measure of poverty rose one percentage point in 2020, when 11.4% of Americans lived in such a situation, or more than 37 million people. It was the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual decreases.
But the Census Bureau’s supplemental measure of poverty, which takes into account government benefit and stimulus payment programs, showed that the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly after aid was taken into account. .
The supplemental poverty measure was 2.6 percentage points lower than its level recorded in 2019, before the pandemic. Stimulus payments lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty, while unemployment benefits kept 5.5 million from falling into poverty. Social Security remained the most effective anti-poverty program in the nation.
“This really highlights the importance of our social safety net,” said Liana Fox, chief of the Census’ office of poverty statistics.
The finding is likely to resonate in divided Congress, where a $ 3.5 trillion spending proposal from President Joe Biden faces an uncertain outlook. Two of the pillars of last year’s response to COVID-19 – higher unemployment benefits and a federal moratorium on evictions – have expired, raising concerns.
The White House was quick to take note.
“The main conclusion of this report is the extremely powerful anti-poverty and pro-income impact of the government’s response in 2020,” said spokeswoman Emilie Simons. “It’s not enough to temporarily lift people out of poverty, we have to provide opportunities for American workers and their families to stay that way.”
The Census Bureau reports released Tuesday cover income, poverty and health insurance, and amount to an annual review of the economic situation of average Americans. They are based on extensive surveys and analysis.
During last year’s epic economic collapse, employers cut 22.4 million jobs in March and April, the largest decrease since tracking began in the 1940s. Weekly claims for unemployment benefits exceeded 6 million in a single week in April, which is the most ever on record. Since then, the economy has regained three-quarters of those lost jobs, but the United States still has 5.3 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic started.