“Wherever we look—whether in the streets or the social science research—we find confirmation that the breakdown of the family is correlated with societal ills such as poverty. We know the cause and we know the cure. But do we have the will as a nation to do what will be required to discourage divorce and single parenthood and encourage the development of strong marriages?”
If you’re out of work and can’t earn an income, it’s easy to slide down the economic ladder from working-poor to just plain poor. So it’s no surprise that the poverty rate in America has, since at least 1970, moved in sync with the unemployment rate. During each recession we would see a spike in the poverty rate and then a decline as the economy recovers and employment levels began to rise.
But around 2010, something seems to have changed. A decrease in unemployment is now no longer enough to reduce the poverty rate. According to a new memo by the Brookings Institute,
Between 2010 and 2013, the unemployment rate fell by 23% in the United States. The poverty rate, we predict, will have fallen by only one percent over the same time period. That is, for a second year in a row, we expect no significant change in either the poverty rate for all persons or for children. [emphasis in original]
The report also predicts the poverty rate likely won’t drop to pre-2007 levels anytime in the next decade:
We predict that there will be a gradual decline in the headline poverty rate for the foreseeable future; however, we do not expect it to return to its pre-Great Recession level by 2024 despite the fact the unemployment rate is projected to do so. This finding reinforces the idea that there are other significant drivers of the poverty rate in addition to the state of the job market—specifically, the composition of families and the generosity of the safety net.
The findings align with what many family scholars and economists have been predicting: the decline of marriage leads to an increase in poverty.