Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 by

As Southern members of Congress continue to say “no” to most safety-net and stimulus proposals, the grim reality is that poverty is deepening across the nation and especially in the region.

According to a report issued today by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), extreme poverty in the United States increased during 2009 by 12.9 percent, expanding the number of people living below 50 percent of the poverty threshold by more than 2.1 million. As a result, extreme poverty was the fastest growing income group in America last year, and the South’s share of the increase was almost twice that of any other region of the country.

One out of every 16 Americans – 18.8 million people – lived on less than seven to ten dollars per day at the end of 2009. This number of persons was larger than the combined population of 15 US states.

Analyzing recently released Census data, SEF’s update on extreme poverty notes that half of the additional 2.1 million persons who fell into extreme poverty during 2009 resided in only seven states, including four Southern states: Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Ohio. The 15-states of the South had 45.3 percent of the nation’s increased population in extreme poverty – almost twice the share of any other region.

Among states, growth rates for extreme poverty were over 20 percent – highest in the nation – in Colorado, Kansas, Utah, Idaho, and Missouri. The five states with the next highest rates of growth were all in the South: North Carolina (19.7 percent), Florida (18.7), Tennessee (18.6), Alabama (18.5), and Georgia (18.2).

“Southern states and the nation cannot long ignore these trends without imperiling the future prosperity of all of its residents,” stated SEF President Kent McGuire. “Even in the worst of times, addressing the problems of extreme poverty is in everyone’s best interest.”

SEF’s full 24-page report includes nine charts, three maps and various graphs illustrating and ranking developments among the states and regions on how extreme poverty grew in 2009 and which population groups have the highest rates of extreme poverty. The update also discusses the implications these trends have for education in the South and the nation.