According to EPI economist Jared Bernstein: "In a rich, advanced economy like the United States, poverty should be viewed as an aberration." Unfortunately this is not the case. In 2006, 12.3 percent of the US population — 36.5 million people — lived below the official poverty line, including 12.8 million children. Since 2000, the poverty rate has increased by about 1 percentage point, or 4.9 million persons, and the number of children living in poverty has increased by 12 percent, to 13 million.
Two reports prepared for the Agenda for Shared Prosperity argue that public policy can help to reduce poverty by increasing work supports and by maintaining a tight labor market. Work, Work Supports, and Safety Nets by Jared Bernstein describe a set of social welfare policies that ensures that work is a pathway out of poverty and that revitalizes the nation's safety net and social insurance systems that keep people from falling into privation when the market fails them.
Analysts estimate that anywhere from a quarter to a third of U.S. workers hold low-wage jobs that provide few prospects for advancement and wage growth. Low wages, few employer-provided benefits, minimal savings, and increased debt have left large numbers of American workers and their families economically vulnerable. Improving Work Supports by Nancy Cauthen explains why an interlaced network of work supports are needed and how the United States needs to reform them.