U.S. poverty rate reaches 15.1 percent
By Michael A. Fletcher,
The nation’s poverty rate spiked to 15.1 percent in 2010, the highest level since 1993, the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday, providing vivid new evidence about the country’s inability to escape the lingering effects of the recession.
About 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty last year, marking an increase of 2.6 million over 2009 and the fourth consecutive annual increase in poverty.
The total number of people living below the poverty line — which in 2010 was set at an income of $22,314 for a family of four — is now at the highest level in the 52 years the statistic has been collected.
The continued rise in poverty was just the latest manifestation of a troubled economy that has left 14 million Americans out of work and caused unemployment to hover above 9 percent for 25 of the past 27 months.
As poverty has spiked, median household income declined by 2.3 percent to $49,445 between 2009 and 2010. The typical household now earns less than it did in 1997, when inflation is factored in, a troubling sign of economic stagnation.
The decline in income has been most pronounced among those who earn the least. Overall, median household income has declined by 7.1 percent since peaking in 1999. The bottom 10 percent of earners have seen their income decline by 12.1 percent, while the top 10 percent have experienced a decline of 1.5 percent in that time period, the Census Bureau reported.
The Census Bureau also reported that 16.3 percent of Americans are without health coverage, a share that officials called statistically unchanged from 2009.
“Income down, poverty up, health insurance coverage down or flat,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The news on economic well-being in the U.S. is not good.”
The news was particularly bad for blacks, Hispanics, children and women. The poverty rate for Hispanics climbed to 26.6 percent from 25.3 percent, and for blacks it increased to 27.4 percent from 25.8 percent. For whites, the poverty rate in 2010 was 9.9 percent, a half percentage point increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, 12.1 percent of Asian Americans fell below the poverty line in 2010, which was statistically unchanged from 2009.
Among children, the poverty rate climbed to 22 percent. The black child poverty rate climbed to 39 percent, while the Hispanic child poverty rate reached 35 percent. The white child poverty rate was 12.4 percent.
Overall, Hispanics children account for 37 percent of the children in poverty, a share that has gone up substantially since 2009, according to William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer.
“The Hispanic population has been hit hard by the recession,” Frey said. “They have been in jobs — construction and services — that have borne the brunt of what is going on in the economy.”
Meanwhile, record numbers of women were living in poverty, according to an analysis of the Census data by the National Women’s Law Center. The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest level in 17 years.
More than 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including over 7.5 million in extreme poverty, with an income below half of the federal poverty line.
“Behind today’s grim statistics are real people who are finding it harder than ever to keep a roof over their heads, feed their families, get the health care they need and give their children a chance at a better life,” said Joan Entmacher, NWLC vice president for Family Economic Security.
The report found that the recession was forcing hard-pressed Americans — particularly the young — to double up in households with relatives and friends. Among Americans aged 25 to 34, the number of people doubled up in households has increased 25 percent since the recession hit in 2007.