Stuck in neutral: Census numbers demonstrate Americans' struggles

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What a time for a government shutdown and a do-nothing Congress.

America's stagnant economy, while no longer in a free-fall, continues to register widening income gaps and lock millions of people into hopelessness. Unless the nation is prepared to tolerate unacceptable rates of poverty and growth, the Census Bureau reports released recently should be a call for new economic strategies.

The good news is that, for the first time in a half-decade, household incomes didn't drop and poverty didn't rise. The U.S. economy has expanded since the recession ended in 2009, but income gains have occurred almost entirely at the top. Any growth failed to lift most incomes and left more than 46 million Americans in poverty.

The national poverty rate held steady at 15 percent -- 2.5 percentage points higher than it was before the economic downturn. Adjusted for inflation, median income also remained just above $51,000 last year, down 9 percent from more than $56,000 in 1999. During that same period, the real economy grew 28 percent. Income is down 8.3 percent since 2007, when the economy started to tank.

Given those figures, it's appalling that House Republicans want to cut food stamps by $40 billion in 10 years.

Poverty is a complex problem, involving, among other things, transportation, education, health care, job training, housing and financial literacy. Cities need plans to coordinate local resources to get poor people training, transportation and jobs.

The federal government and state governments also need new strategies. Tax cuts and austerity are not policies that will drive economic development and job growth.

Creating good-paying jobs, bolstering the safety net and lifting people out of poverty through training and education will take new thinking and new policies. As the Census figures make clear, the old ones aren't working.

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