15% of the U.S. Lives in Poverty

Current Government Shutdown
Makes Things Worse for the Poor

Census BureauIn September, the Census Bureau released a report titled, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012.” This report presents national data on the current population and examines multi-year trends in income, poverty, and health insurance.

Nationally, not much has changed from 2011 to 2012 with regard to income or poverty and neither has recovered to the levels seen in 2007 (before the recession):

  • Median household income in 2012 was $51,017, essentially no change from the 2011 median income of $51,100, but still 8.3% lower than 2007; and
  • The official poverty rate was 15% and there were 46.5 million people in poverty in 2012 with no significant change since 2011. However, the poverty rate was 2.5% higher than in 2007.

Click here for the CBPP statement on the Census Bureau’s Poverty report.

Click here for a chart from CHN that shows “The Great Unshared Recovery.”

Click here for “The Official Poverty Measure Masks Gains Made Over the Last Fifty Years” report.

Click here for The American Prospect post “America’s Neediest Families are About to Run Out of Money.

In some locations and for some populations, the picture has worsened. The number of people in poverty did increase among people

  • Over the age of 65 (from 3.6 million in 2011 to 3.9 million in 2012), and
  • Living outside of metropolitan statistical areas (from 8 million in 2011 to 8.5 million in 2012).

There were also some signs of recovery:

  • The number of men working full time, year round increased by 1 million between 2011 and 2012; and
  • Real median income increased 3.2 percent for households residing in principal cities.

Both the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the Campaign for Human Needs (CHN) offer further analysis of the report.

  • There were 6.7 million more poor people in 2012 than 2008, one year into the Great Recession.
  • More than one-third of the nation is almost poor – 106 million people live below twice the poverty line – one lay-off or crisis from poverty.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities also recently released a report explaining how “The Official Poverty Measure Masks Gains Made Over the Last Fifty Years.” The report makes the case for why comparing today’s official poverty rate with those of the 1960s yields highly distorted results because the official poverty measure captures so little of the poverty relief that today’s safety net now provides.

As an example of how the shutdown of the federal government could make things worse for the poor, a very real potential effect is that poor families who rely on aid through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program could lose their job training funding and child care subsidies.

Some states rely solely on federal funding for these programs and other do not have enough reserve funding to keep these programs going for more than two weeks.

As of October 4, 2013, due to shutdown, the actual report is not available on the Census Bureau website.

The poverty rate remained unchanged at 15% in 2013.