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Rob Lever, Agence France-Presse (AFP): US poverty rate hits 15.1%, highest since 1993

US poverty rate hits 15.1%, highest since 1993
by Rob Lever, September 13, 2011

The US poverty rate rose in 2010 to 15.1 percent, the highest since 1993, according to census data showing a record number of Americans classified as poor and highlighting a struggling economy after the end of the Great Recession.

The Census Bureau report released Tuesday showed a sharp increase in the poverty rate from 14.3 percent in 2009, and a fourth consecutive rise in the number of people below the poverty line, to 46.2 million.

The number of people living in poverty was the highest since data collection began in 1959, although the rate was 7.3 percentage points lower than in 1959.

The US definition of poverty is an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for a single person in 2010.

The survey showed struggles for the rest of Americans, with median annual household income falling 2.3 percent to $49,445.

The Census Bureau also said the number of people without health insurance coverage rose to 49.9 million in 2010 from 49.0 million in 2009, while the percentage without coverage — 16.3 percent — was not statistically different from the rate in 2009.

The census report said there was no “statistically significant” change in inequality between 2009 and 2010 based on its index.

The poverty rate for blacks and Hispanics was much higher than for the overall population at 27.4 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively. Among regions, the South had the highest poverty rate at 16.9 percent and the highest percentage without health insurance, 19.1 percent.

The Asian population saw a decline in poverty to 12.1 percent from 12.5 percent a year earlier.

The poverty rate increased for children under 18 to 22 percent from 20.7 percent in 2009.

The Children’s Leadership Council, an advocacy group, called the news “unacceptable in America.”

“We are paying the price for child poverty today, and we will pay the price for decades to come,” said the organization, calling for lawmakers to avoid further cuts to child welfare.

“The rising numbers of children living in poverty is a direct result of the choices made by political leaders who put billionaires before kids,” the group said. “America’s children should be our top priority.”

The report, showing the first full year since the recession officially ended in June 2009, supports the notion that Americans have been losing ground economically. It showed real median incomes fell 6.4 percent from pre-recession levels in 2007 and were 7.1 percent below the peak in 1999.

Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the report shows “the news on economic well-being in the US is not good,” and that the trend is likely to continue.

“Given the widely accepted projections that both unemployment and in particular long-term unemployment will continue at high rates for the next several years, we can expect this pattern of continuing low income and high poverty rates for many years,” Haskins said.

“Safety net programs run by the federal and state governments are helping millions of families avoid poverty, but these programs could be subject to cuts at the federal and state level because of continuing deficit and debt problems,” he said.

“The main message of today’s release in income and poverty numbers from the Census Bureau is that if we don’t like the way things are now, we better get used to it.”

A Brookings analysis shows that the poverty rate is projected to approach 16 percent in 2014, “meaning that the Great Recession will have added nearly 10 million people to the ranks of the poor by mid-decade.”

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