U.S. Poverty Rate Tops 15 Percent

U.S. Poverty Rate Tops 15 Percent

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the nation's poverty rate increased to 15.1 percent in 2010, the highest level since 1993, and that some 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty, a year-over-year increase of 2.6 million people and the fourth consecutive annual increase.

According to the Washington Post, the total number of people living below the poverty line — defined as household income of $22,314 for a family of four — is at the highest level in the fifty-two years since the data has been collected. The continued rise in poverty is the latest manifestation of a troubled economy that has left fourteen million Americans out of work and caused unemployment to hover above 9 percent for most of the past two years.

The Census Bureau also reported that median household income fell by 2.3 percent, to less than $50,000, between 2009 and 2010. When factoring inflation into the equation, the typical household now earns less than it did in 1997. The decline in income has been most pronounced among those who earn the least, the Post reports. Overall, median household income has fallen 7.1 percent since peaking in 1999, the Census Bureau reports, with the bottom 10 percent of earners experiencing a decline in their income of 12.1 percent, while the top 10 percent experienced a drop of 1.5 percent over that period.

The picture for African Americans, Hispanics, children and women was particularly bad, with the poverty rate for Hispanics climbing to 26.6 percent from 25.3 percent, and rising to 27.4 percent from 25.8 percent for African Americans. For whites, the poverty rate in 2010 was 9.9 percent, a year-over-year increase of 0.5 percent. The report also found that 16.3 percent of Americans were without health coverage in 2010, roughly the same number as in 2009.

"Income down, poverty up, health insurance 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."

Michael A. Fletcher. "U.S. Poverty Rate Reaches 15.1 Percent." Washington Post 09/13/2011. "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010." U.S. Census Bureau Press Release 09/13/2011.