Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 2010 Poverty Numbers

Earlier today the Census Bureau released the 2010 data on income, poverty and health insurance coverage. For most of the past ten years poverty has risen annually, and this year was not an exception with the rate rising to 15.1 percent (up 0.8 percentage points from 2009). Predictors of poverty, such as long-term unemployment, worsened from 2009 to 2010, so the poverty rate increase, while unfortunate, is not surprising. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after recessions, increases in poverty typically persist longer than increases in unemployment. Furthermore, in each of the previous three recessions, the poverty rate did not begin to fall until a year after the annual unemployment rate began to decline.

While poverty in 2010 did not rise as steeply as it did in 2009, the rate of people living in deep poverty rose to a record high with 6.7 percent of all people living in deep poverty (deep poverty is defined as a family earning an annual income below half the poverty line). Fortunately government assistance programs have mitigated some of the affects of the economic crises on families in and near poverty. According to the Census Bureau, Unemployment Insurance and Social Security Income (both considered in the poverty estimates) kept poverty rates from growing even higher; UI lowered the number of people in poverty by 3.2 million people and SSI by 20.3 million people. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are not calculated into the poverty rate but if they were they would have reduced the number of people living in poverty by 5.4 million and 3.9 million respectively.

The poverty numbers suggest that while the aftermath of the recession is impacting people across the country, it has been experienced in different ways and to differing degrees.

The 2010 poverty data showed that:

  • In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.
  • In 2010, 6.7 percent of all people, or 20.5 million, had income below one-half of their poverty threshold, up from 6.3 percent, or 19.0 million people, in 2009. This group repre­sented 44.3 percent of the poverty population in 2010.
  • The poverty rate and the number in poverty increased for both married-couple families (6.2 percent in 2010 from 5.8 percent in 2009) and families with a female householder (31.6 percent in 2010 from 29.9 percent in 2009).
  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent), for Blacks (from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent), and for Hispanics (from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent).
  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased for children under age 18 (from 20.7 percent to 22.0 percent).
  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased for adults aged 18 to 64 (from 12.9 percent to 13.7 percent).

Considering the Data in Context

In considering the data released by the Census Bureau it is important to also consider the context. A recent post by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights that the figures released today tell us how many people are poor but do not explain the experiences of those living in poverty. The CBPP post highlights other government data that suggest families living below, or only modestly above, the poverty line (which was about $22,300 for a family of four in 2010) are likely to face daily hardships and that living in poverty can have damaging consequences over the long term. They highlight, for example:

  • Nearly half (44 percent) of poor households with children were “food insecure” in 2010, according to the Agriculture Department, meaning that at times they had trouble affording sufficient food. For households with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty line, this rate was 9 percent.
  • About half (48 percent) of all poor households with children in 2005 reported one or more of four major hardships: they faced food insecurity with hunger, lived in overcrowded conditions, were behind on rent or mortgage payments, and/or were unable to go to the doctor or hospital when they needed to.
  • Poor children were more than 70 percent more likely to lack health coverage than non-poor children in 2009. Over 15 percent of poor children were uninsured, compared to under 9 percent of non-poor children.
  • Research shows that poverty among young children not only slows them down in school but also may significantly shrink their earnings as adults.

While budgets are tight and falling short, and while unemployment rates and poverty remain high, it is important for policymakers to continue to work on supporting the families in greatest need - all while considering the feasibility within the current economic climate. Understanding how communities are being most affected and why will help policymakers create safety-net programs that will meet family and community needs. Creating policy with a focus on results will help to do this in a way that also efficiently allocates scarce resources and improves the odds that problems will be addressed effectively.

To read CSSP's Statement on the New Poverty Data and Implications for Children and Families please click here.

For more strategies to Ensure Children Grow Up in Safe, Supportive and Economically Successful Families visit

More from our blog: a primer on poverty measurement and the Census instruments used.

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