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Pandemic took bite out of US economy. Yet millions escaped poverty.

More than 17 million Americans avoided poverty in 2020 thanks to pandemic relief programs, according to a new Census report.

By Mark Trumbull, Staff writer Jacob Turcotte, Graphics editor | September 17, 2021

When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered much of the economy in the spring of 2020, about 1 in 7 U.S. workers abruptly lost their jobs. For context, that’s more than twice the scale of job losses seen during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. Help was needed, and fast.

As Congress was moving to pass relief legislation, Melissa Kearney and Luke Pardue, both University of Maryland economists, researched the difference that cash payments could make for affected households.

The economists found that average workers in the hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector, for instance, were earning just $20,000 a year, owed about $1,000 in monthly rent, and often had kids to support.

Federal actions at the time included stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance – and this week the U.S. Census Bureau released data on the resulting boost. There was still hardship, as the aid didn’t always get quickly to those who needed it most.

But in all, more than 17 million Americans avoided poverty thanks to pandemic relief programs – in addition to more than 30 million who were already lifted above the poverty line by existing federal programs like Social Security.

The federal aid came at a cost – adding to national debt. But conservative economic analyst Scott Winship summed up the outcome this way in a tweet this week: The “CARES Act and other extraordinary policy measures from last spring worked.”

© The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

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