Upside down: Poverty keeps rising, incomes keep falling

Upside down: Poverty keeps rising, incomes keep falling

More and more Americans are sliding into poverty, seeing diminishing incomes and joining the ranks of the uninsured. Those are three of the top findings in “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010,” the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual snapshot of economic trends in U.S. households.

There’s a lot to chew on in this report, and we and many others will be doing exactly that in the coming days and weeks. For now, here is a selection of the agency’s most significant findings:

Income. For most American households, there’s no good news when it comes to income. Median household income in 2010 dropped 2.3 percent in the last year to $49,445, a number that’s a full 6.4 percent lower than when the median household earned four years ago and 7.1 percent less than 1999.

Minority households are losing income at a faster pace than white households. “Since 2007 … non-Hispanic, white household income declined by 5.4 percent, black household income by 10.1 percent, Asian household income by 7.5 percent, and Hispanic household income by 7.2 percent,” the report states.

The longer view is equally distressing. Take a look at this chart tracking median household earnings between 1967 and last year:

The income gains made in the late 1990s have simply vanished, and many households are barely better off than they were in the late 1970s.

Poverty. For the third year in a row, poverty increased in the U.S.–to 15.1 percent of all people, up from 14.3 percent last year. More than 46 million Americans, in other words, are now considered poor, the largest number ever in the 52 years that poverty estimates have been published.

Twenty-two percent of children under the age of 18 were poor in 2010, the report says.

Just under 10 percent of non-Hispanic, white people were poor in 2010, while more than 27 percent of African Americans and 26 percent of Latinos were poor.

Young people, meanwhile, seem only able to avoid poverty by getting help from their families. Check out this finding the census bureau flagged in a news release: “Young adults ages 25-34, living with their parents, had an official poverty rate of 8.4 percent, but if their poverty status were determined using their own income, 45.3 percent had an income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65.”

Housing. Poverty rates would probably have been higher but for another emerging trend: More and more people are doubled-up. Young people were affected particularly hard. To quote from a The Wall Street Journal analysis:

In a presentation as part of its wider report on income, poverty and health insurance, the census bureau noted a big jump in the number of individuals and families doubling up. Census says 69.2 million, or 30 percent, were doubled-up in 2011, up from 61.7 million adults, or 27.7 percent, in 2007. “Doubled-up” households include at least one person 18 or older who isn’t enrolled in school and isn’t the householder, spouse or cohabiting partner of the householder.

Much of the increase comes from young people, ages 25-34, living with their parents. Some 5.9 million, or 14.2 percent of 25-to-34 year olds, lived with their parents in 2011, up from 4.7 million before the recession.

Health insurance. The agancy found that 49.9 million people were uninsured in 2010, up from exactly 49 million the previous year. One disparity to note is how immigrants are struggling to find health care. Last year, the percentage of native-born Americans without health insurance stood at 13.8 percent, while 45.1 percent of people born in other countries went without coverage.

Like we said above, we’ll be digging through this data in the coming days and months. As we start that look, let us know if you see any noteworthy trends in the numbers in the comments section below.

© Community Renewal Society 2011


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  • As Prof. Thomas Sowell has pointed out, it's just about impossible to learn or conclude anything from a chart of median household income over a time period in which the composition of the households themselves has changed significantly.

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