It's time to examine our efforts to help impoverished families move above the federal poverty line.

Tents on the sidewalks of Los Angeles.Millions of Americans struggle to provide for their families every year, and the numbers are increasing. The national unemployment rate was 5% in December 2007 at the beginning of the recession. Two years later, the unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009.* At the same time, 42.9 million Americans were living at or below the government-defined poverty line, a federal benchmark that represents the minimum level of income one can make in order to survive with the bare essentials.

Why Are So Many Americans Falling Below the Federal Poverty Level?

According to economists, there are various causes behind poverty in the U.S. The 2008 recession led to millions of people losing their jobs, businesses, homes, and life savings. Thousands of businesses closed permanently, while others were forced to lay off employees, eliminating individual positions and even full departments just to stay afloat. Millions of factory and construction jobs disappeared. After more than 7 years, the job market has still not recovered to prerecession levels.

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What Are Americans Doing to Help?

Poverty is a complex, multifaceted condition, with contributing factors that include lack of education, low wages, family composition, job availability, and others. Fighting poverty in America requires a multipronged approach to improve life for the impoverished and assist them in rising above the federal poverty line.

At the federal level, the broad initiatives of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are helping individuals and families below the poverty line by providing tax breaks for working families, increasing the amount of unemployment insurance payments, and providing billions more in funding for: ‡

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”).
  • Food banks.
  • Energy assistance programs.
  • Homelessness prevention programs.
  • Other antipoverty measures.

Federal, state, and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, nongovernment organizations, private businesses, and individuals are working together to fight poverty. Here are some of the things they’re doing—and some of them are things you can do, too:

  • Creating low-income energy programs that offer utility assistance to families without electricity.
  • Donating items and money to local charities and religious organizations for poverty-stricken families in their areas.
  • Fighting against wage theft, sexual harassment, forced labor, and other types of human rights abuse in the work force.
  • Providing food, clothing, and other items of necessity directly to families in need.
  • Volunteering at homeless shelters, helping to build more shelters for displaced families, and donating food and money to support them.

How a Public Policy Degree Can Help You Help Those Experiencing Poverty

Public policy degrees such as an online Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Master of Public Policy (MPP) attract those who are motivated to use their education and career to serve the public good in government and nongovernment organizations. Public policy makers help shape policies and design and implement public programs that serve diverse populations—and help improve quality of life for impoverished and at-risk families in their communities and around the U.S.

Explore Walden University's online public administration degree programs for graduates and undergraduates. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS Spotlight in Statistics: The Recession of 2007-2009 (page 2), on the Internet at

† U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey Briefs, Poverty: 2009 and 2010, on the Internet at

‡The White House, Poverty, on the Internet at

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