Double Whammy: US Poverty Up, Incomes Down

Providing fresh fodder for the increasing number of Americans that believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the nation’s poverty rate rose in 2010 to its highest level in 27 years, while the median incomes of U.S. households fell to the lowest level in 15 years.

Some 46.2 million people were living in poverty last year, 2.6 million more than the year before. The poverty line in 2010 was $22,314 for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual, as calculated by the federal government.

The 15.1 percent poverty rate reported by Census – which works out to 1 in 6 Americans – may actually understate the breadth and depth of poverty across the land.

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With the nation’s economy growing during the first half of 2011 at annualized rate of less than 1 percent, with the jobless rate stuck at more than 9 percent, it is quite likely another million or more Americans have fallen into poverty this year.

Meanwhile, household incomes were down in 2010 for the third straight year, a total 6.4 percent decline since the 2007 recession began. While the recession supposedly ended in 2009, that did not prevent incomes from continuing their downward slide the following year.

And, like the poverty rate, the decline in household incomes the Census Bureau reported Tuesday is probably even worse than it appears. With 14 million unemployed Americans, with companies like Bank of America continuing to shed, rather than create, jobs, it is likely incomes will fall in 2011 for the fourth straight year.

Behind the poverty and incomes data is the portrait of a nation that may not be in the midst of an economic recession, as officially determined by the federal government, but certainly feels that way to at least a fifth of the country.

Among that needful fifth of Americans are the 49.9 million without health insurance in 2010, 900,000 more than the year before. It also includes the 5.9 million young adults, age 25 to 34, who lived with their folks last year, 1.2 million more than before the Great Recession.

Then there are the 6.2 million “chronically” unemployed Americans, those who have been out of work more than six months. They represent some 45 percent of the nation’s jobless, the highest level since the Great Depression.

President Obama did not comment Tuesday on the latest poverty and household income data, focusing instead on stumping for his jobs plan during a visit to Ohio. That left Melody Barnes, the president’s chief domestic policy adviser, to make the case that White House policies have done much to help struggling Americans.

“Millions and millions of low income people,” said Barnes, at a forum Tuesday hosted by the administration, “are already benefiting from the health care reform law this president fought for and signed into law.

Moreover, she said, there have been “significant, significant investments by this president to make sure we are serving low-income Americans and urban Americans.”

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