Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.
And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997.
Economists pointed to a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard.
The report said the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line last year, 15.1 percent, was the highest level since 1993. (The poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314.)
The past decade was also marked by a growing gap between the very top and very bottom of the income ladder. Median household income for the bottom tenth of the income spectrum fell by 12 percent from a peak in 1999, while the top 90th percentile dropped by just 1.5 percent. Overall, median household income adjusted for inflation declined by 2.3 percent in 2010 from the previous year, to $49,445. That was 7 percent less than the peak of $53,252 in 1999. Part of the income decline over time is because of the smaller size of the American family.
Minorities were hit hardest. Blacks experienced the highest poverty rate, at 27 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009, and Hispanics rose to 26 percent from 25 percent. For whites, 9.9 percent lived in poverty, up from 9.4 percent in 2009. Asians were unchanged at 12.1 percent.
An analysis by the Brookings Institution estimated that at the current rate, the recession will have added nearly 10 million people to the ranks of the poor by the middle of the decade.
Last year, about 48 million people ages 18 to 64 did not work even one week out of the year, up from 45 million in 2009, said Trudi Renwick, a Census official.
According to the Census figures, the median annual income for a male full-time, year-round worker in 2010 — $47,715 — was virtually unchanged, in 2010 dollars, from its level in 1973, when it was $49,065, said Sheldon Danziger, professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.
The poverty level for a single person under the age of 65 was $11,344.
The report also said the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 900,000 to 49.9 million.
Below are charts using the same census data copied from OffTheChartsBlog:
The Census Bureau issued
data this morning on poverty, incomes, and health coverage in 2010. Below are some charts to show how the new figures look in historical context, and here’s
our statement with analysis.