The Census Bureau released national data on the latest patterns and trends in poverty, income, and health insurance coverage on September 16. The data show that the poverty rate is at its highest level since 1994, increasing from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2009, a significant jump of 1.1% in just one year.
Since the start of the current recession in 2007, the number of people in poverty has increased by nearly 6.3 million, making the increase the largest since the recession of 1978-1983. The report may ultimately understate the impact of the recession on poverty since the end point of this current recession has yet to be determined and unemployment often continues to grow even after the first signs of the recovery.
After declines in the past two years, in 2009 the median household income in the country ($49,777) remained statistically unchanged from 2008, despite the increase in poverty. By disaggregating the data, however, the report makes clear that fairly broad categories of the population such as younger working age people, non-Hispanic whites and blacks, married couples and those living in the suburbs, experienced real declines in their median income.
Declines in income and employment also led to an increase in the number of people without health insurance. Over 7 million fewer households had private insurance in 2009 than in 2008. This was partially offset by an increase of 5 million people receiving public insurance. In all, just over 4 million additional people were without health insurance in 2009 compared to 2008.
The data in the report, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, comes from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. The official poverty definition was established in the 1960s and varies by household size and is updated every year by the rate of inflation. This measurement of poverty is based on cash income before taxes and does not include the value of noncash benefits, nor does it take into account the rising standard of living over the past 50 years or the geographic differences in the cost of living. The Census Bureau is currently working on a supplemental poverty measure that would address these issues with the current poverty threshold. When it was established, the poverty level was roughly half of the nation’s median family income. Today, at $21,756 for a family of four, it is roughly one-third.
The report and various related data can be viewed at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2009/index.html