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Poverty Statistics Soon to be Weapons

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Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The recently released poverty statistics from the U.S. Census have made stark headlines and will soon make very effective political weapons for both political parties.

That’s the nice thing about most statistics, handled deftly, they can say just about anything you want them to. It’s safe to say that both Republicans and Democrats are about to use the very same statistics to accomplish very different means.

The headline from the report is that according to the 2010 Census numbers, 46.2 million Americans, essentially one in six, are currently living in poverty. That simple, short headline creates powerful images for most people.

It’s the power of those images in our imaginations that will drive the varied use of the poverty statistics.

As voters think of the now 15.1% of Americans that are currently below the poverty line, count on the President and his fellow Democrats to point to this statistic as one of the key reasons that action needs to be taken right now, and that action needs to be the passage of the American Jobs Act.

However, as the same image of those same Americans appears in the heads of other voters, count on Republicans to point to this statistic as the result of terrible handling of the economy by President Obama and the reason why his Jobs Act needs to be reworked.

Either way, urgency is created in two very different ways with the same statistics.

But the overall percentage of Americans below the poverty line is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Census Bureau was kind enough to provide a variety of statistics in their report so both parties have plenty of ammunition for the 2012 campaign.

One facet of the report shows that the gap between the poorest Americans and the wealthiest Americans has grown, with incomes for the wealthiest segment of the population falling nearly 2 percent, but incomes of the poorest segment falling 4 percent.

That part of the report should go very far in helping President Obama to justify raising tax rates on the wealthy as a way to help pay for his Jobs Act.

But, if we look at the growth of the poverty rate over the last four years, it hasn’t grown this fast since the early 1980’s.

That statistic will help the writers of GOP attack ads make more comparisons between today’s economy and the economic problems that helped make Jimmy Carter a one term President.

Parts of the report bolster many President Obama’s key issues and projects as many more citizens between the ages of 18-24 have health insurance during a time where 49.9 million Americans are without health insurance. Experts attribute the improvement among 18-24 year olds to President Obama’s health care reform law.

But, on the other hand, the report took into consideration many of the stimulus programs passed in the last few years, which means it could be fairly easy for the GOP to show that President Obama’s stimulus plans did very little to help the situation, and only added to a growing deficit.

The biggest point to be made is that like all statistics, the U.S. Census Poverty report will be manipulated in many ways. Eventually, hearing the report interrupted in several different ways will force voters to make the decision about poverty in America on their own, based on their own experiences.

So the most important statistic may not be that 1 in 6 Americans are below the poverty line. It might be how many of the 5 in 6 Americans know someone who is living below the poverty line, and what keeps them there. That might make the only difference as Republicans and Democrats read the same report in two totally different ways.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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