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The number of Americans living in poverty has spiked to levels not seen since the mid 1960s, classing 20 per cent of the country’s children as poor.

It comes at a time when government spending cuts of $85 billion have kicked in after feuding Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a better plan for addressing the national deficit.

The cuts will directly affect 50 million Americans living below the poverty income line and reduce their chances of finding work and a better life.

Before spending cuts kicked in on March 1st, 49-year-old Antonio Hammond became a success story for Catholic Charities of Baltimore – one of a multitude of organizations trying to haul people out of poverty.

In this Maryland port city, one of four residents is considered poor by U.S. government standards.

Hammond says he ended up in Baltimore three years ago, addicted to crack cocaine and snorting heroin, living in abandoned buildings where “the rats were fierce,” and financing his addiction by breaking into cars and stealing copper pipes out of crumbing structures.

Eighteen months after finding his way to Catholic Charities via a rehabilitation center, the Philadelphia native is back in the work force, clean of drugs, earning $13 an hour cleaning laboratories for the Biotech Institute of Maryland and paying taxes.

Catholic Charities, which runs a number of federally funded programs, spent $18,000 from privately donated funds to turn around Hammond’s life through the organization’s Christopher’s Place program which provides housing and support services to recovering addicts and former prisoners.

Such success stories are in danger as billions in federal government spending cuts begin squeezing services for the poor nationwide.

They are hitting as the U.S. slowly climbs out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“All I wanted to do was get high,” Hammond said. “I didn’t even know any more how to eat or clean myself.”