'Grim' new poverty numbers

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 

The U.S. Census Bureau released new data on income, poverty and health insurance coverage today. The prognosis? "The only word for it," said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "is 'grim.' "

Highlights from today's data:

Total in poverty

• 46.2 million, the highest number in the 52 years since poverty estimates have been calculated. In 2010, a family with two adults and two children would be classified as living in poverty if the household income was less than $22,113. 

Poverty rate

• 15.1 percent, the highest since 1993. 

Median income

• Median household income fell to $49,400, down 2.3 percent from 2009, and down 6.1 percent since 2007, prior to the recession. For working-age households, median income hit its lowest level since 1994. 

Poverty by race

• 27.4 percent of black Americans lived below the poverty line, compared to: 

• 26.6 percent of Hispanic Americans 

• 12.1 percent of Asian Americans

• 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans

The poverty rates for black and Hispanic households were more than double those of whites. 

Poverty among children

• 22 percent of children lived below the poverty line, up from 20.7 percent in 2009. In 2010, 9.9 percent of children lived below 50 percent of the poverty line. More than 20 percent of black children fell into that category. No comparable data are available for Hispanic or Asian children because of census methodology.  

Poverty by household status

• 8.8 percent of married couples with children under 18 lived below the poverty line. After years of decline, the poverty rate for female-headed households with children under 18 rose to 40.7 percent. 

Deep poverty

deep poverty

• 6.7 percent of people are living below 50 percent of the poverty line, the highest rate ever recorded. For a single person, that means living on less than $5,569, and less than $11,157 for family of four. 

Doubled-up households

• 21.8 million households were doubled up in the spring of 2011, up from 19.7 million households in 2007, an increase of 10.8 percent. Fourteen percent of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 lived with their parents, 5.9 million in total. That’s an increase of 25.5 percent over comparable figures for 2007. 

But “doubling up can work in both directions,” noted Trudi Renwick, chief of the poverty statistics branch of the Census Bureau. “You might be pushed into poverty because someone moved into your household,” she said, “or you might be pulled out of poverty because someone moved into your household because they bring income with them.” 

Impact of government programs

• 3.2 million more people would have fallen below the poverty line without unemployment insurance.

The current poverty measures do count unemployment income, but do not include government benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). But if the tax credit were counted, an additional 3 million children would be placed above the poverty line, according to bureau estimates. The SNAP program, if it were counted, would have placed an additional 3.9 million people above the poverty line in 2010, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


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The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.