According to the most recent Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in America, 46 million Americans (roughly one in six people) are now living in poverty, the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959 (the poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993).
Here’s what else the data show:
* The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.
* The U.S. poverty rate from 2007-2010 has now risen faster than any three-year period since the early 1980s.
* Poverty rose among all race and ethnic groups except Asians. The number of Hispanics in poverty increased from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent; for blacks it increased from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent, and Asians it was flat at 12.1 percent. The number of whites in poverty rose from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.
* Child poverty rose from 20.7 percent to 22 percent.
* Poverty among people 65 and older was statistically unchanged at 9 percent, after hitting a record low of 8.9 percent in 2009.
* The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in over two decades.
* The share of Americans without health coverage rose from 16.1 percent to 16.3 percent — or 49.9 million people, the biggest in over two decades.
* Median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower last year than any year since in 1997.
* The number of people over 16 who did not work at least one week increased from 83.3 million in 2009 to 86.7 million last year.
The report is unremittingly bleak. And Bruce Meyer, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago, cautioned the worst may yet to come in poverty levels, citing in part continued rising demand for food stamps this year as well as “staggeringly high” numbers in those unemployed for more than 26 weeks. He noted that more than 6 million people now represent the so-called long-term unemployed, who are more likely to fall into poverty, accounting for more than two out of five currently out of work.
The Great Recession of 2008 has visited a lot of hardship and misery on millions of Americans – and as is always the case, it is the poor and the vulnerable who suffer the most.It is perhaps worth recalling, then, the words of the Psalmist: “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”
So should we.