The dueling nature of the headlines in the news reflects the duality of these tough economic times.
"Downturn's over," said the Sept. 21 story about the official end of the Great Recession.
"A descent into poverty for millions," had greeted readers on the front page just four days earlier.
Both headlines are right. But the end of the downturn is a technicality, while the reality for the 44 million below the poverty line -- a 15-year high -- is continued misery.
The statistics are stark: One in seven Americans, and one in five children, is living in poverty. As usual, people of color are suffering the most: 9.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites are impoverished, compared with 12.5 percent of Asians, 25.3 percent of Hispanics and 25.8 percent of blacks.
As a direct result of unemployment, fewer have health care: 51 million were uninsured at the end of 2009, up from 46 million a year earlier. And the use of food stamps is soaring: 41.3 million now receive benefits, up from 39 million at the start of 2010. Not surprisingly, food shelves around the country report record demand.
Unless a robust recovery quickly creates millions of new jobs -- which seems unlikely -- those living in poverty could soon be even worse off as the social safety net further frays. Millions will exhaust their unemployment benefits, and the stimulus dollars allocated to mitigate misery have nearly run out.
Into the breach -- as always -- are charities. In particular, it will be a crucial year for the Greater Twin Cities United Way. Funding 400 programs from 200 agencies, the United Way is the largest nongovernmental funder of human services in the nine-county metro area. It kicked off its annual fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $87 million, which is a 2.2 percent rise from last year.
Getting there won't be easy, given that givebacks in pay may make many workers reticent to increase their donations -- if they still can give at all.
But Richard Davis, the U.S. Bancorp leader who along with his wife, Theresa, cochairs this year's campaign, believes that this is exactly the right time to ask more of those who may have less but who still have something.
"When polled this summer, 63 percent of Americans feel they are no longer in harm's way" of the Great Recession, said Davis. "They have dodged the bullet and feel fortunate. They may not be as well-off as a year ago, but they know how amazingly well-off they are in comparison."
Davis is right. The poverty report indicates the dire need to give at a higher level, even by -- or especially by -- those who were hit but not knocked down by the recession.