News, Policies, & Trends

Census Bureau Reports Record Number of Poor Americans

By | Sep 22, 2011

The Census Bureau opened its press briefing on the just-released 2010 income, poverty and health insurance data with a brief statement from the director. The director said the yearly figures show “how day-to-day people are faring under changing economic conditions.”

By almost every measure, the answer is not well at all. Between 2009 and 2010:

  • The poverty rate rose from 14.3% to 15.1%. The new rate is the highest since 1993.
  • The number of people in poverty increased by 2.6 million. The total number now — 46.2 million — is the largest in the 52 years Census has been publishing such figures.
  • The percent of people in deep poverty, i.e., with incomes at or below 50% of the applicable poverty threshold,* increased to a record-high 6.7%.

As in the past, poverty rates were considerably higher in some population groups than others. For example:

  • The child poverty rate increased to 22% — up from 18% in 2007.
  • The number of children in poverty increased by 950,000 to a 16.4 million.
  • Nearly 7.4 million of these children (9.9%) were in deep poverty.
  • The poverty rate for blacks was well over two-and-a-half times the rate for non-Hispanic whites — 27.4% as compared to 9.9%.
  • The deep poverty rate for blacks was more than three times higher — 13.5% as compared to 4.3%.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanics was 26.6% and the deep poverty rate 10.9%.

A reporter asked the Census Bureau experts whether they could explain why the poverty rate rose. The reporter was told that the Bureau produced statistics, not explanations. One factor suggested, however, was the growing number of people who had no — or virtually no — work during the entire year.

In 2010, 86.7 million people over the age of 16 worked less than one week — an increase of more than 3.4 million over 2009 and of more than 11.3 million over 2007. Not surprisingly, 23.9% of these potential workers lived below the poverty threshold.

It seems to me another arrow in the quiver of those of us who want Congress to pass the President’s jobs bill.

Yet the bill, as the President himself says, “can’t solve all our nation’s woes.” He’s referring, as White House communications indicate, to the dwindling economic security of the middle class.

The economic woes of low-income Americans pre-date the recession too. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, the poverty rate has been rising for most of this decade — in boom years as well as downturns.

We’ll need a comprehensive strategy — and a smart one — to do something about this. We’ll need a broad-based commitment. Things as they are, I’m not holding my breath.

Photo credit: Fellowship of the Rich