Headlines inform us that half of Americans are now living at poverty level, but the U.S. Census Bureau has not yet released data showing how many Americans lived below the poverty line in 2011. The 2010 figure is 15.1%, the highest rate we have had since 1993. Between 1993 and 2000, the poverty rate actually fell each of those years. These statistics are from the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center.
The actual dollar amount of the United States poverty level for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia (Alaska’s and Hawaii’s are a bit higher) was $22,050 for a family of four in 2009, and is $22,350 for 2011. The difference is just 1%, so it is not the case that the actual poverty level assigned by the Department of Health and Human Services has simply risen to take in more people. If more people are poor, it is likely that more people have simply taken in less money.
In 2000, the US poverty rate was 11.3%. So in actual fact, the poverty rate in the US increased 3.8% between 2000 and 2010, while the overall population increased by 9.7%. In other words, the specifically poor population in the United States increased considerably less than the overall population of the United States during the same span of time.
As interesting as all of this may be, people are hurting, and they’re letting things go, giving things up, especially insurance, and letting their homes run down, likely figuring it hardly matters if they are underwater anyway, not to mention all the new-home foreclosures that have tanked the market. Certainly a lot of people have not had a good year, at least by some standards.
Truly, this is a good time to be a Calvinist. Truth is a good standard, and good standards make our years good regardless of our external circumstances. My pastor said last Lord’s day that the best years of our lives are still ahead of us. And he’s right, of course. He’s right because, God’s goodness is not about the economy, it’s not about money, and it’s not about statistics that compare people’s circumstances to other people’s circumstances. God’s goodness is about our ultimate good, our sanctification. And for those in whom the Holy Spirit of God is working His free grace, He is enabling them more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 35; Baptist Catechism, Q. 38).