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The latest numbers emerged from the federal government. Although the recession technically ended, someone should tell the rest of America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage report for 2010, poverty increased to 15.1 percent in 2010.
A total of 46.2 million people are in poverty, the highest number since the government started tracking poverty in the 1950s. “Income down, poverty up, health insurance coverage down or flat,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a statement.
“The news on economic well-being in the U.S. is not good. Worse, children’s poverty increased for the fourth year in a row and at 22 percent is the highest since 1993. Child poverty has been higher than the 2010 level in only three years since the mid-1960s.” Poverty is defined by family size and income.
The federal government considers a family of four with annual earnings of less than $22,314 to be poor. In 2010, 9.2 million families lived in poverty, up from 8.8 million in 2009. Poverty increased among every racial and ethnic group except Asian Americans. The share of white Americans living in poverty grew to 13 percent, up from 12.3 percent in 2009.
African Americans and Latinos saw similar increases in poverty and remained significantly more likely to be poor than whites. In 2010, black poverty climbed to 27.4 percent from 25.8 percent in 2009, and Latino poverty reached 26.6 percent, up from 25.3 percent in 2009.
The uninsured continues to rise as well. The share of Americans covered by private health insurance continued its decade-long fall. Nearly 50 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2010, an increase of 900,000 from the previous year. The number of Americans who participate in a government health insurance program, however, continued its four-year climb.
Alice O’Connor, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of “Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy and the Poor in Twentieth Century U.S. History,” said explanations for rising poverty often focus on the work ethic and personal choices of the poor.
But since the Great Recession, she said, a growing number of Americans have come to understand that the availability of living-wage jobs plays a large role in determining a family’s economic state. Despite that recognition, O’Connor said many still fail to understand the role social policies — such as those that make collective bargaining difficult or tax income from work and investments differently — contribute to increased poverty.
She noted that public health insurance programs for poor children and adults and cash welfare assistance, among other social safety net measures, have seen significant cuts in many cash-strapped states. And many workers — particularly men — are effectively earning less than they did three decades ago, while also lacking access to health insurance and other benefits. ”
What we are looking at today is really the result of decades of eroded protections for workers and just a declining number of good jobs,” said O’Connor.