FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
While President Barack Obama pushed his plan this week to get Americans back to work in an economy with Black employment now at 16.7 percent, African-Americans learned more grim news.
Blacks have the highest rate of poverty in the country at 27.4 percent, up from 25.8, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010’’ report issued by the Census Bureau also shows that the poverty rate for Black children is at 39 percent.
The number of people living in poverty rose by 2.6 million, from 43.6 to 46.2 million people. The numbers reflect a dire trend; it is the fourth consecutive annual increase, reaching the highest level in the 52 years that the Census Bureau has tracked the statistics.
15.1 percent total poverty rate
The number of Blacks living under the poverty line – which is $11,139 for an individual in 2010 – rose to 10.7 million, up 1.6 percent.
The median household income in 2010 was $49,445, a dip of 2.3 percent from the previous year. The median income for Black households in 2010 was $32,068, down 3.2 percent from $33,122.
The median income for White households also dropped, to a lesser degree, from $52,717 to $51,846, a decline of 1.7 percent. (Median income for Asian and Hispanic households was not statistically different.)
The overall poverty rate last year was 15.1 percent, an uptick from 14.3 percent. It is the third consecutive year that the poverty rate has risen. The 2010 rate was the highest since 1993, the report noted, but was 7.3 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959. Between 2007 and 2010 the poverty rate increased by 2.6 percentage points.
Hispanics’ rate also increases
Poverty rose among all racial and ethnic groups except Asians. The number of Hispanics in poverty increased from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent. For 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.
There were 9.2 million families living in poverty in 2010, up 11.1 percent from the previous year. And the poverty rates increased for married couples and female-headed households alike. To get a clearer picture of just how troubling that number is, consider that the poverty line in 2010, for a family of four, was $22,314.
Millions more with no health insurance
The number of people without health insurance coverage also rose, from 49 million in 2009 to 49.9 million in 2010. Though the number of individuals increased, the percentage without coverage (16.3 percent) was not statistically different from the rate in 2009, according to the Census Bureau.
The increase was due mostly to continued losses of employer-provided health insurance in the weakened economy.
Census officials wouldn’t say definitively what caused the surge in poverty, but it was evident that the root of the continuing misery was the nation’s inability to create jobs.
‘Lost decade for the middle class’
Of the 2.6 million increase from 2009 to 2010, about two-thirds of the people said they did not work even one week last year.
“It’s a lost decade for the middle class,” said Sheldon Danziger, a poverty expert at the University of Michigan.
The number of poor children younger than 18 reached its highest number since 1962, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
Overall, poverty was generally higher than the national rate in states with high unemployment and in the South. Mississippi had the highest poverty rate last year, at 22.7 percent, and New Hampshire had the lowest, 6.6 percent.
Sixteen percent of Floridians were below the poverty level in 2010, up from 14.6 percent in 2009. Florida’s 2010 rate is the highest it has been since 1995 when it was 16.2 percent.
Obama’s plan saves benefits
The report, coming shortly after Obama unveiled a proposed $447 billion package of tax cuts and spending to revive job growth and the recovery, was seen as intensifying the debate over the government’s role in helping the poor and unemployed at a time of budget deficits and painful cutbacks in public services.
Unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau said, helped lift about 3 million people above the poverty line, and Obama’s latest proposal includes continuing the aid.
The report “underscores yet again why these programs must be maintained to rebuild the economy,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, referring to unemployment insurance and Social Security benefits.
Young adults’ insurance rises
The number of young people between 18 and 24 who had insurance increased significantly, possibly reflecting the effect of the new health care law, which allows dependents up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans.
The decline in insurance coverage was fueled largely by employers dropping health benefits as health care costs continued to rise, a trend that has reduced the percentage of Americans who get health benefits through work from a peak of 65.1 percent in 2000 to 55.3 percent last year.
During that period, the average annual premium for an employer-provided family health plan more than doubled to $13,770 from $6,438, according to surveys by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
As Americans lost coverage through work, they have increasingly relied on government programs such as Medicaid.
“The real policy take away is the importance of protecting the safety net,” said Families USA Chief Executive Ron Pollack, a leading consumer advocate. “Medicaid is the lifeline.”
Spending, living needs not factored
The government’s official poverty rate doesn’t count food stamp benefits and low-income tax credits as income. If those programs, which totaled about $150 billion last year, were included, millions more people would have been counted as being above the poverty line.
At the same time, analysts said, other factors understate the extent of people struggling to meet their basic needs.
Experts agree that the government’s poverty thresholds, designed in the early 1960s, don’t reflect people’s spending and living needs in today’s economy.
The Census Bureau is scheduled to release alternative measures of poverty in October.
The Associated Press, Black Voices/Huffington Post and McClatchy-Tribune News Service were used in compiling this report.