US poverty highest level in 50 years
Zoie Matthew, with additional reporting by Michelle Ponder
September 30, 2011
Filed under News
When Mila Wuryee, a Santa Monica College student, came to the United States in 2005 with her six-year-old son she already had a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design from her home country of Russia.
Wuryee had produced and shown a line of clothing and was working towards a law degree on the side.
Prospects looked good.
But when her marriage turned abusive and she was forced to strike out on her own with her now 12-year-old son, her situation quickly turned bleak.
“I tried to get a job for two years,” says Wuryee.
Left with no family, friends, or help from her husband, she joined the 46 million living under the poverty line according to the 2010 Census.
This is the highest number recorded in the 52 years that poverty estimates have been published, announced the Census Bureau in its press release. The poverty count has been on the rise for four consecutive years.
The Census also revealed that the number of individuals going uninsured rose by almost a million people last year and that the median household income has declined 6.7 percent since 2007, the year before the recession, painting a grim portrait of our nation’s economic state.
To organizations like Chrysalis, a local nonprofit dedicated to finding jobs for low-income and homeless individuals, the influx of clients due to the rising poverty rates has been overwhelming.
“Since the economic downturn began, we have experienced a 60 percent increase in the number of clients that we serve,” wrote Amy Fierstein, Communications and Marketing Manager at the center, in an email to The Corsair. “We routinely provide services to 450 clients each day at our three centers in Downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Pacoima. Not surprisingly, this has put a significant strain on our staff and resources.”
In addition, this number does not account for the individuals who appeal for assistance, but aren’t officially considered homeless or low-income. This is a group Chrysalis cannot help, even when help is badly needed.
According to the Census, poverty is calculated using the entirety of a person’s income – including things such as social security benefits, alimony, child support, and profit from estates.
A family is assigned one of 48 different poverty thresholds, which are dollar amounts based on family size and number of dependants. If the income does not surpass the threshold, the person will be considered impoverished.
For Wuryee, legal complications involving her husband have made it difficult for her to qualify for many poverty benefits.
“They tell me, your issues are so complicated we don’t know what to do. We can’t help you,” says Wuryee.
For now, the only aid she receives is a small monthly sum from the Social Security Department.
“$200 a month for two people. People cannot live on that,” says Wuryee. “That’s what they’re doing for a single mother – a domestic violence victim – plus a child. That, and the food stamps.”
Many who come to Chrysalis are like Wuryee – living on slim government assistance, in need of other options. Fierstein says that the center’s saving grace in this time of economic turmoil has been its large volunteer base.
“We are fortunate to have a large number of volunteers that work with us on a daily basis to supplement our staff,” said Fierstein.
For those interested, there are many ways to become part of this volunteer base. Fierstein suggests that those who want to help make a donation to Chrysalis on their website – changelives.org, or over the phone at 310- 401-5424.
One can become a volunteer and assist clients in resume-writing; help by conducting practice interviews, teaching a class, or leading a workshop. Business owners are encouraged to hire those being helped by the organization.
As for Wuryee, who is unable to pay rent and may become homeless by the end of this week, she simply hopes for the best for herself and her son.
“The thing is, I need somewhere to live with my son,” Wuryee says. “Then I can kind of move on. Continue my study, find a job, and keep going.”