First I agree it is unfortunate. Second I am by no means rich. With that stated however it is not the governments responsiblilty to redistribute wealth or decide where people end up in life. It is the governements resposibility to create a environment where people can pursue the right to life, liberty, and happiness. What people decide to do after that is up to them. It is called freedom, freedom to succeed/fail. Although the government are trying to make it full scale. That is why you hear all the arguements about the rich and poor. Trying to create class warefare. If the goverment really did this country would be over. No longer would people have the american dream of the opportunity to succeed. If you look back through history pretty much all socialist/communist systems have failed, use USSR for one.
Now concerning the numbers of people in poverty, look farther back than 1998 you will see that the poverty was much high in the 90's under Bill Clinton than currently.
Poverty level (MSNBC)
There are many reasons why people get into these situations some not of their own accord, but mostly because. There are so many entitlements in the US today, more than ever before, that you/parents pretty much have to make poor decisions in your life or decide not to take advantage of them to end up there.