US Adds 4.8 Million More to Ranks of the Poor as Poverty Rate Jumps

By Scherer, Ron | The Christian Science Monitor, September 16, 2010 | Go to article overview

US Adds 4.8 Million More to Ranks of the Poor as Poverty Rate Jumps


Scherer, Ron, The Christian Science Monitor


US poverty rate hit 14.3 percent last year, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. The jump bring the number of the poor to its highest level since 1959, five years before the Johnson-era War on Poverty.

The deepest recession in modern times has sharply increased the ranks of the poor during the past year, with 1 in 7 people in America officially counted as living in poverty.

The news from a US Census Bureau report released Thursday underscores how deeply the Great Recession has affected the nation's standard of living. The key findings of report, which compared income, poverty rate, and health-care insurance coverage in 2009 with 2008 numbers, include the following.

1) Some 43.6 million people were living in poverty last year - the highest number since 1959, five years before President Lyndon Johnson declared his War on Poverty. The poverty rate was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008 and the highest level since 1994. Hispanic households took the hardest hit: Their poverty rate rose 2.1 percent from 2008's level, compared with a 1.1 percent jump in the rate for blacks and whites. (The US government considers an annual income of $21,756 to be the poverty line for a family of four.)

2) A record number of Americans, 50.7 million, were not covered by health-care insurance in 2009. At the same time the survey was being taken, Congress passed President Obama's contentious health- care reform law.

3) The median household income was $49,800 last year, about the same as in 2008. This "hold steady" figure for income may reflect the fact that many people were helped by the government safety net, such as unemployment insurance, which Congress repeatedly extended and which kept some 3.3 million people out of poverty, according to the Census data.

The data, contained in a statistic-thick 87-page report, are likely to have widespread implications for policymakers, say economists and analysts. Here is how some of them interpret the numbers.

- The poverty rate is likely to rise further, predicts Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in a new analysis. The rate will approach 16 percent and stay high for most of this decade, she says. The recession will add some 10 million people, including 6 million children, to the poverty rolls.

Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, writes in an analysis that in the past three recessions the poverty rate has not fallen until a year after the unemployment rate began to fall. …

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