Nightly News | September 16, 2010
WILLIAMS: Good evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: There are new numbers out tonight on the state of poverty in the United States that deserve our attention. They tell a bleak story of struggle in an economy that is leaving a lot of citizens behind. The numbers from the Census Bureau show that in 2009 , 14.3 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line . That's up from the year before, and the highest since 1994 . In terms of actual people, that means more than 43 1/2 million Americans now living below the poverty line , which, by the way, is defined as just under $22,000 a year for a family of four. There are other families who make more than that amount, but because of the cost of living are unable to make ends meet.
WILLIAMS: There's also alarming news tonight about Americans and their homes and their health insurance . We'll get to all of it. We want to begin with our own Lee Cowan in Los Angeles with more on these numbers and the people behind them. Lee , good evening.
LEE COWAN reporting: Brian , just to put these numbers in some perspective, it means that one out of every seven Americans is living in poverty tonight. And as high as that number is, experts say it could have been even higher. It's a snapshot of the nation's poor that doesn't discriminate. The poverty rate rose for nearly all races and all ethnicities. A quarter of the nation's African-American population is in poverty. Same is true for Hispanics . Among the hardest hit are children. One in five are now estimated to be growing up poor in the richest nation in the world.
Unidentified Woman: Numbers five and six.
COWAN: At foot pantries like this one in Los Angeles , the new face of the poor isn't what you might expect. Take Elma Tapeta , a professional mother of two, who never thought she'd be depending of others for a meal.
Ms. ELMA TAPETA: We get bread, sometimes we get seafood, sometimes we get chicken.
COWAN: Across town at the local mission we found Shavon Maybell , a college graduate who's now homeless.
Ms. SHAVON MAYBELL: I've never, ever really disclosed this to my family because it's embarrassing. I'm expected to do well, you know?
COWAN: Then there's Norma Gorvera . She's worked since she was 13, but lost her job last year.
Ms. NORMA GORVERA: When you see that you don't have nothing at home to cook or to offer what we're going to have, it makes it -- it makes it tough.
COWAN: She can't afford food, let alone health care . And she's not alone. The number of Americans like her without health insurance climbed to 51 million people last year. That's nearly one in six, a record.
COWAN: The numbers are so bad for working age people that some are comparing them to the 1960s , just before President Lyndon Johnson launched a host of welfare programs in his war on poverty.
President LYNDON JOHNSON: We shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.
COWAN: But critics say we've done just that, lose.
Mr. ROBERT RECTOR (The Heritage Foundation): The child poverty rate today is exactly the same level as it was back when Johnson started the war on poverty in the 1960s , so obviously spending more on welfare isn't the answer here.
COWAN: Others disagree, saying that welfare programs worked for some, but even more government action needs to be taken.
Mr. MARC MORIAL (National Urban League): The best anti-poverty program is not a new social program , but a robust jobs program that prepares, trains, and puts people back to work, that expands the economy.
COWAN: But when Americans are searching for what to eat for dinner or wondering how they're going to feed their children, it's hard to imagine the statistics could be much worse. Now, Brian , most experts say that these numbers aren't necessarily the best estimate of the nation's health. There's a lot of things that they do not take into account, but at the very least they seem to point to a disturbing trend that the problem of poverty isn't diminishing, it's growing. Brian :
WILLIAMS: Lee Cowan starting us off from LA tonight. Lee , thank you for that.