One in every 15 Americans, about 6.5 percent of the population, is extremely poor, according to a study based on recent census data.
Over 20 million Americans are classified in the bottom 50 percent of the poor population. The rate of extreme poverty is the worst since the census began collecting such data 35 years ago.
Extreme poverty is classified as any individual making $5,570 or any family of four making less than $11,175 annually.
The numbers reflect the impact of the economic recession.
“There now really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners,” Robert Moffitt, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, told The Associated Press. “Recessions are supposed to be temporary, and when it’s over, everything returns to where it was before. But the worry now is that the downturn – which will end eventually – will have long-lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can’t recover.”
The data shows 40 states experienced an increase in extreme poverty since 2007, while the remaining states showed no change.
The biggest increase belonged to cities along the Sun Belt, from Las Vegas to Cape Coral, Fla., where construction and manufacturing jobs grew scarce when the housing market collapsed in those areas. Cities like Detroit and Akron continue to struggle with severe economic decline due to the downturns of their local commerce.
Poverty for elderly Americans – those over 65 – has nearly doubled due to rising healthcare costs. Child poverty, conversely, reportedly shrank due to the positive effects of food stamps and new government support programs.
Blacks and Hispanics are particularly hurt by current economic conditions. For the first time in history, the number of Hispanics in extreme poverty is expected to surpass the number of blacks. Hispanics do not participate in as many government aid programs as blacks, the study says, which contributes to the numbers.
Nearly 27 percent of all Hispanics are living in poverty.
The rise of extremely poor Hispanics affects the geography of U.S. urban areas. While the trend is for blacks to move away from low-income ghettoes into suburbs, Hispanics are filling those urban vacancies.
Suburbs, in effect, are experiencing a sharp increase in poverty rate, and the census data illuminates how economic woes affect grand scheme geographical issues.
The gap between rich and poor is widening, though the study cites a widespread economic depression throughout the middle and lower classes.
More census data will be released in the coming weeks.