WASHINGTON (RNS) The number of people in poverty in America increased to its highest recorded point last year, and the poverty rate rose to its highest level since 1994, new statistics show.
The Census Bureau released data Thursday (Sept. 16) that showed a significant annual increase in poverty, rising 1.1 percentage points to 14.3 percent in 2009. A total of 43.6 million live in poverty—the highest since recording began in 1959—and up from 39.8 million in 2008.

As result of the ongoing financial crisis, social service programs such as Catholic Charities USA are faced with the challenge of increased needs from individuals and working families, budget cuts and a decrease in individual donations.

Catholics Charities served more than 9 million people in 2009, and reported a 10 percent increase in need for nutrition, housing and financial services.

The Rev. Larry Snyder, president and CEO of Catholics Charities, said that while the statistics were staggering, they did not come as a surprise to those who work with people in poverty on a daily basis.

“These numbers are further proof that as a nation it is time to re-examine our failing system of safety nets,” said Snyder.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of the anti-hunger group Bread for the World, echoed Snyder’s concern, calling “the faithful to get off the couch and change the politics of hunger and poverty.”

While government leaders are eager to support the rich and middle class, they are leaving the poor behind, said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

“Our political leaders’ calculated neglect of the poor while courting the votes of the comfortable offends the Creator of the universe,” Kinnamon said. “Any measures taken should not only stimulate the economy but benefit everyone, especially those living on the economic margins.”

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