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The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the share of Americans living in poverty was reduced after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the economy last year, but massive relief payments made by Congress eased the hardship for many.


The official poverty measure showed an increase of 1 percentage point in 2020, indicating that 11.4% of Americans were living in poverty. This was the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines.

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But a more fully complementary measure of poverty, which takes into account income streams such as stimulus payments, actually showed that the share of people in poverty after aid sank.

The pandemic shutdown sent shockwaves through the economy last year. In April alone, more than 20 million workers lost their jobs. Unemployment offices paid an average of 20 million claims weekly last year. The economy has recovered since then, but employment is still about 5 million less than pre-pandemic levels.

Congress passed five bipartisan COVID-19 response bills last year, which totaled close to $3.5 trillion and were signed into law by then-President Donald Trump. This year Democrats pushed President Joe Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion US rescue plan on party-line votes. Its impact is not reflected in the census report.

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Although some last year was delayed due to conflicts over costs, to problems with federal aid distribution, overall it left American households more vulnerable to the economic disaster that exacerbated the public health crisis. Some groups were left out, such as people who are not legally authorized to live in the country.

As Americans battled over measures such as mask-wearing and the closure of businesses and community life, lawmakers on both sides were prompted to take dramatic action, said economist Bruce Meyer, a University of Chicago expert on poverty.

“You had Democrats who were very focused on helping the unemployed and hurt, and you had Republicans who were willing to do a lot of things to help their presidential re-election, hence the encouragement by politicians, Or there was a confluence of desires on both sides,” he said.

Robert Greenstein, a public policy analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank, said Trump ultimately lost again, but the census report provides evidence that is relevant to the current debate over Biden’s $3.5 trillion social infrastructure plan.

“For those who take a cynical view that nothing works effectively, especially on the poverty front, that view will be hard to maintain,” said Greenstein, who focused on budget and policy priorities. Center founded, advocated on behalf of a non-profit organization. of low income people.

The Biden economic plan expands tax credits for families with children, seen as a strategy to reduce childhood poverty and its long-term consequences.