8 Million Have Slipped Into Poverty Since May as Federal Aid Has Dried Up

But some opponents of further assistance argue it has discouraged people from working.

“There’s just lots of opportunity that’s not being accessed — we’ve got to get people back to work,” said Jason Turner, who runs the Secretaries’ Innovation Group, which advises conservative state officials on aid policies. “I’m not as alarmed about poverty as I am about unemployment. Poverty is an arbitrary income threshold, and people who dip below it, they make adjustments. If you’re not working at all, that’s a huge deal. Physical and mental health declines, substance abuse goes up.”

Given the magnitude of the crisis, the increase in poverty since January — about 8 percent by the Columbia count — was a “modest amount,” Mr. Turner said.

By the government’s fullest measure, a family of four in a typical city is considered poor if its annual income falls below $28,170.

The crisis is hitting minorities especially hard, preserving or even deepening the large poverty gaps that predated the pandemic. The analysts at Chicago and Notre Dame (including James X. Sullivan and Jeehoon Han) found poverty among Black people rising at an especially fast pace, at a time of widespread protests over racial inequality.

Black people and Latinos are more than twice as likely as white people to be poor, the new data shows. Both minority groups disproportionately work in industries hard-hit by the recession and may face barriers to aid. Black people disproportionately live in Southern states with low benefits, and some Latinos are disqualified because they lack legal status.

Both studies also found child poverty rising at a rapid rate, with an additional 2.5 million children falling below the poverty line since May. Research shows that even short stays in poverty can cause children lasting harm.

Jenny Santiago, a single mother in Pontiac, Mich., fears her household’s worsening finances creates new peril for her four children, ages 8 to 13. A driver for takeout services, Ms. Santiago quit work when schools closed in March to to watch her children. The stimulus check and $600 unemployment bonus provided “a nice chunk” of help, she said, “but it didn’t last forever.”

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