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COVID & Unemployment

With more people falling below the poverty line, a look at what benefits they might receive

Mitchell Hartman Sep 15, 2020
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The poverty threshold, just over $26,000 a year for a family of four, is used to allocate more than a trillion dollars in government payments. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

With more people falling below the poverty line, a look at what benefits they might receive

Mitchell Hartman Sep 15, 2020
Heard on:
The poverty threshold, just over $26,000 a year for a family of four, is used to allocate more than a trillion dollars in government payments. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The latest report from the Census Bureau on income, poverty and health insurance coverage is out. The figures are for 2019, however, and, unfortunately, in this year of pandemic recession and tens of millions of people losing their jobs and income, last year’s numbers are already out-of-date.

It’s likely more people have fallen below the poverty line. And that matters, because the poverty line determines who’s eligible for a whole lot of federal assistance programs.

The poverty rate measures the percentage of people who don’t earn enough to get by in this economy. The income cutoff — called the poverty threshold — is just over $26,000 a year for a family of four.

Economist Bruce Meyer at the University of Chicago said that, in turn, is used “to allocate literally more than a trillion dollars in government payments.”

The poverty line determines eligibility for a host of federal aid programs, including Head Start and school lunches, SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), children’s health insurance, family planning, parts of Medicaid and legal aid.

Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute said that with pandemic job losses, “the reduced income for a larger number of people will mean that more people are eligible for various programs.”

Wilson says job and income losses have been greatest among low-income workers of color, especially women.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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