News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

New Census Report Says 1 in 6 Americans Live in Poverty; Real Numbers Even Higher

According to the US Census, 46.2 million people lived in poverty last year in the United States. Economist Heidi Shierholz explains why the real number is even bigger.
 
 
Share
 
 
 

A new U.S. Census Bureau report reveals the number of people living in poverty last year surged to 46.2 million—one in six Americans—the highest number since the Bureau began tracking such data more than 50 years ago. According to the report, blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 54 percent of the poor, with whites at 9.9 percent and Asians at 12.1 percent. Children under 18 suffered the highest poverty rate. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with employer-provided health insurance has also continued to decline, and the ranks of the uninsured now hovers just below the 50 million mark, the most in more than two decades. Analysts say the numbers would have been worse if not for government assistance programs, including extended unemployment compensation, stimulus spending, Obama’s health reforms, and Social Security. We speak with Heidi Shierholz, labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

 NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to look at the devastating financial reality now facing many Americans. A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals the number of people living in poverty last year surged to 46.2 million. That’s one in six Americans, the highest number since the Bureau began tracking such data more than 50 years ago. The report reveals that in 2010, the U.S. poverty rate rose for a third consecutive year to hit 15.1 percent. Overall, children under 18 suffer the highest poverty rate. The report also showed that blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 54 percent of the poor, with whites at 9.9 percent and Asians at 12.1 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the number of Americans with employer-provided health insurance has also continued to decline. The Census Bureau reports the ranks of the uninsured hovered just below the 50 million mark, the most in more than two decades. Analysts say numbers would have been far worse if not for government assistance programs, including extended unemployment compensation, stimulus spending, Obama’s health reforms, and Social Security. The Census report coincides with Obama’s push for a close to $450 billion job creation package.

For more, we turn to Heidi Shierholz in Washington, D.C., labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, member of the board of directors of the D.C. Employment Justice Center.

Heidi, welcome to  Democracy Now! Talk about these figures.

HEIDI SHIERHOLZ: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: One in six Americans are poor.

HEIDI SHIERHOLZ: Yeah, you know, when I look at a report like this, what it tells me is that it shows the real human consequences of the economic downturn that we’ve seen. One in six Americans are poor. One in five kids are living in poverty. Here’s another stat that I think is just stunning: one in 10 kids are living in deep poverty. So, deep poverty is defined as half of the poverty threshold. And just to give you an idea of where that is, it’s $11,000 for a family of four. So, one in 10 kids in this country is living in a family that makes—if they have a family of four, that makes less than $11,000. So it is just a really severe problem.

It shows that the job loss that we have seen over the last three years, it permeates out, it hits everyone. And the other thing this report shows is that when I say it hits everyone, it wasn’t just people at the bottom that have taken big hits. We saw declines across the income distribution. If you look at the median income, the middle family, the sort of typical family, they also saw substantial declines in income. Something as big and long-lasting as the Great Recession, it’s just—the feelers of that are just really still hitting our population.