Census Report: 1 in 6 Americans Is Poor; Income Inequality Growing
New figures released by the US Census Bureau on Wednesday reveal that 46.2 million Americans, including 16.1 million children, are poor, that median household income declined in 2011 and that income inequality increased to its highest level in 45 years.
The Census report, titled “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011,” placed the nation’s poverty rate at 15.0 percent, the same figure as 2010, breaking a three-year trend of increasing poverty. The 46.2 million Americans living in poverty– nearly 1 out of every 6 people– represents the highest absolute number since the Census Bureau began compiling such statistics 53 years ago.
The poverty rate is lowest (6.2 percent) among married-couple families and highest among families with a female householder. A staggering 31.2 percent of such households are poor, defined by the Office of Management and Budget as earning $23,021 or less for a family of four.
Alarmingly, 21.9 percent of children under the age of 18– some 16.1 million individuals– are poor.
African-Americans and Hispanics suffer from the highest poverty rates, with 27.6 percent of blacks and 25.3 percent of Hispanics living in poverty. Asians (12.3 percent) and whites (9.8 percent) are least likely to be poor.
Foreign-born non-citizens have the highest overall poverty rate, at 44.2 percent.
Real median household income in the United States fell 1.5 percent to $50,054. Median household family income dropped 1.7 percent to $62,273. Real median household income was 8.1 percent lower than it was in 2007 and 8.9 percent below its 1999 peak.
Based on the Gini coefficient index, a measure of household income equality, income inequality rose by 1.6 percent between 2010 and 2011. While the share of aggregate income for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans rose by 4.9 percent, it declined for the middle class.
If there is a silver lining to the Census report, it is that the number of Americans with health insurance rose from 256.6 million (83.7 percent) in 2010 to 260.2 million (84.3 percent) in 2011. Still, some 7.6 million children (9.7 percent) do not have insurance, and 13.8 percent of poor children lack health coverage.
Progressive lawmakers and anti-poverty activists voiced their alarm over the latest poverty figures. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, called on Congress to declare a new war on poverty.
“It is beyond shameful that over 45 million Americans, including over 16 million children, are living in poverty in the wealthiest nation in the world,” Rep. Lee said on the House floor on Thursday. “Now is not the time to turn our backs on struggling families just to preserve or even expand tax giveaways to millionaires and billionaires. We must come together to wage a war on poverty and end the war on the poor,” she added.
Princeton University Professor Cornell West said that President Barack Obama has not done enough to help the poor, but that he was still a better choice to lead the nation than Mitt Romney.
“Obama… though better than Romney, is still very much part of a system that has failed poor and working people,” West said on Democracy Now!, adding that the president has been “disastrous” so far.
Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney has made fighting poverty a central campaign issue, although Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala, a formerly homeless anti-poverty activist, have created a Green New Deal for America that makes combating poverty and the conditions that cause and exacerbate it a top priority.
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