Nearly 1 in 6 Americans in poverty, Census says
It estimated that new unemployment benefits passed in 2009 - which gave workers up to 99 weeks of payments after layoffs, and didn't run out for most people until this year - lifted 3.2 million above the poverty line. Social Security kept about 20.3 million - seniors as well as working-age adults receiving disability payments - out of poverty.
"If these programs are cut back in the future, poverty rates are likely to rise even more," Meyer said.
At the same time, the working-age population - ages 18 to 64 - showed some of the biggest hits in poverty, rising from 12.9 percent to 13.7 percent. Working-age Americans now represent nearly 3 out of 5 poor people and are at the highest level since the 1960s when the war on poverty was launched.
Young adults, in particular, struggled. Median income for those ages 15-24 fell 9 percent to $28,322. For those 25-34, nearly 6 million "doubled up" in households with parents and friends to save money, up 25 percent from before the recession. For that group, the poverty rate was at 8.4 percent; but the rate would have risen to 45.3 percent if their parents' incomes weren't taken into account.
"It's pretty bad for young people," said Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. "They are cushioning the blow in several ways by living with others and going to school longer, but eventually they will have to enter the labor market and find a very inhospitable place."
Last year saw a third year of increases in Americans without health insurance, lifting the total number to the highest since the government began tracking the figures in 1987. The number of people covered by employment-based health plans declined from 170.8 million to 169.3 million, although those losses were partially offset by gains in government health insurance such as Medicaid and Medicare.
Other census findings:
-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 blacks it rose from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent and 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, after hitting a record low of 8.9 percent in 2009.
The official poverty level is based on a government calculation that includes only income before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership.
As a result, the official poverty rate takes into account the effects of some stimulus programs passed in 2009, such as unemployment benefits, as well as jobs that were created or saved by government spending. It does not factor in noncash government aid such as tax credits and food stamps.
Next month, the government will release new supplemental poverty numbers for the first time that will factor in food stamps and tax credits as well as everyday costs such as commuting. Preliminary census estimates show a decline in child poverty based on the new measure but increases in poverty among working-age Americans as well as those 65 and older due to rising out-of-pocket medical costs.
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