Poverty rate in United States high­est since 1993

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

In the first full cal­en­dar year af­ter the Great Re­ces­sion, the U.S. poverty rate jumped past 15 per­cent as a new record of 46.2 mil­lion Amer­i­cans fell be­low the of­fi­cial poverty line, the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau said Sept. 13 in a sur­vey of in­come, poverty and health trends.

Me­dian house­hold in­come dipped by more than 2 per­cent to about $49,500, and the num­ber of peo­ple with­out health in­sur­ance in­creased, although the rate of unin­sured house­holds held steady, the bureau said.

The 2010 poverty rate of 15.1 per­cent was sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the 14.3 per­cent rate in 2009 and the high­est since 1993. The num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in poverty is the high­est in ab­so­lute terms since the bureau started keep­ing records in 1958.

These “grim” numbers would have been worse with­out “key fed­eral pro­grams” such as un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, the Earned In­come Tax Credit, food stamps and Med­i­caid, said Robert Green­stein, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties. It “raises the stakes” for how Pres­i­dent Obama and Congress han­dle eco­nomic is­sues, he said.

A likely rea­son be­hind the higher poverty numbers is the ris­ing num­ber of non­work­ing Amer­i­cans, said Trudi Ren­wick, chief of the bureau’s poverty sta­tis­tics branch.

In 2009, 83.3 mil­lion peo­ple 16 and older did not work at all, “even one week,” Ms. Ren­wick said. In 2010, this rose to 86.7 mil­lion peo­ple. “That could be the sin­gle most-im­por­tant fac­tor con­tribut­ing to the in­crease in the poverty rate,” she said.

Added Ron Hask­ins, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and former staff mem­ber of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee: “Worse, chil­dren’s poverty in­creased for the fourth year in a row, and at 22 per­cent is the high­est since 1993.” Child poverty rates have been higher “in only three years since the mid-1960s,” he said.

The poverty thresh­old for a fam­ily of four in 2010 was an an­nual in­come of $22,314.

Some say the Cen­sus Bureau’s numbers paint too bleak a pic­ture, based on a dis­puted def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes “poverty” in 2011 Amer­ica.

The bureau’s por­trait is “too bad to be true,” said Robert Rec­tor, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

“For most Amer­i­cans, the word ‘poverty’ sug­gests des­ti­tu­tion: an in­abil­ity to pro­vide one’s fam­ily with nutritious food, cloth­ing and rea­son­able shel­ter,” he said, but only a small num­ber of the Amer­i­can poor fit that de­scrip­tion.

In­stead, a poor child in Amer­ica is “far more likely to have cable or satel­lite TV, a com­puter, a widescreen plasma tele­vi­sion, an Xbox or TiVo than to be hun­gry or live in run-down or over­crowded hous­ing,” Mr. Rec­tor said.

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