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2009 Poverty Rate Highest in 15 Years

The poverty rate in the U.S. rose to 14.3% in 2009 - its highest level in fifteen years, the Census Bureau reported on Thursday. Up from 13.2% in 2008, this was the second statistically significant increase in the country’s poverty rate since 2004.

Defined as an income level of $21,954 or less for a family of four, poverty struck 43.6 million people in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008. This makes the third year in a row that the number of impoverished has increased.

This is also the largest number of people to be in poverty since the Census Bureau began keeping track 51 years ago.

But the U.S. population has also grown much in the past 51 years - about 178 million in 1959 compared to 305 million in 2009. And the poverty rate for 2009 was 8.1 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959.

The poverty rate increased in 2009 among all ethnic groups as defined by the Census Bureau report, except for Asians whose poverty rate of 12.5% was not much different from data in 2008. This group’s median annual income of just over $65,469 was also little changed for 2009.

Non-Hispanic whites, with a median annual income of just over $54,461, had the lowest poverty rate, increasing from 8.6% to 9.4% for 2009. The poverty rate for blacks, who had a median income of $32,584, increased from 24.7% to 25.8%. For Hispanics the poverty rate rose from 23.2% to 25.3% in 2009, and this group had a median income of $38,039.

The poverty rate also increased for all types of families. For married-couple families it increased from 5.5% to 5.8% in 2009, and for men running a home with no wife present the rate jumped from 13.8% to 16.9% in 2009.

Almost a third of single mothers are living in poverty; the rate for this group increased from 28.7% to 29.9% for 2009. Another finding: In 2009, the earnings of women who worked full time, year-round were 77% of that for corresponding men, not statistically different from the 2008 ratio.

Also, the real median earnings of men who worked full time, year-round rose by 2.0% between 2008 and 2009, from $46,191 to $47,127. For women, the corresponding increase was nearly the same at 1.9%, from $35,609 to $36,278.

Among age groups as defined by the report, the poverty rate increased from 19% to 20.7% for children under the age of 18, and increased from 11.7% to 12.9% for people aged 18 to 64. The poverty rate decreased from 9.7% to 8.9% for people who are age 65 or older.

President Obama said in a statement, “Our economy plunged into recession almost three years ago on the heels of a financial meltdown and a rapid decline in housing prices. Last year we saw the depths of the recession, including historic losses in employment not witnessed since the Great Depression.

“But the data released today also remind us that a historic recession does not have to translate into historic increases in family economic insecurity. Because of the Recovery Act and many other programs providing tax relief and income support to a majority of working families – and especially those most in need – millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year.

“The substantial expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) helped inoculate our children from the economic distress experienced by their parents, as there was little change in the percentage of children without health insurance. The Affordable Care Act will build on that success by expanding health insurance coverage to more families.

“Even before the recession hit, middle class incomes had been stagnant and the number of people living in poverty in America was unacceptably high, and today’s numbers make it clear that our work is just beginning. Our task now is to continue working together to improve our schools, build the skills of our workers, and invest in our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

U.S. Census Bureau
The White House
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Friday, 10 July 2020

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