U.S. Poverty Rate Hits a 15-Year Peak

unemployed poverty
unemployed poverty

Poverty numbers in the U.S. are getting grimmer: The country's poverty rate increased in 2009, reaching 14.3%, or 43.6 million people. That's the latest word from the Census Bureau, which released its report, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, today. In 2008, the nation's official poverty rate was 13.2%, or 39.8 million people.

The number of families in poverty increased to 11.1%, or 8.8 million, in 2009, up from 10.3%, or 8.1 million, in 2008.

Not only is the poverty rate in 2009 the highest since 1994, but more people were living in poverty in 2009 than in any of the 51 years for which poverty estimates are available, the Census Bureau said. However, real median household income of $49,777 in 2009 didn't change much from 2008.

Children Are Still Affected Most

How does the bureau determine who's living in poverty? For a family of four in 2009, the threshold was $21,954, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget, which updates the poverty threshold for inflation. So, the number was lower in 2009.

Poverty continued to affect children more than adults. The rate for children younger than 18 increased beyond 20%, reaching 20.7%, or 15.5 million children, up from 19%, or 14.1 million children, in 2008. The poverty rate also increased among people 18 to 64 from 11.7% in 2008 to 12.9% in 2009. But it declined for people 65 and older from 9.7% in 2008 to 8.9% in 2009.

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Regionally, the poverty rate increased from 2008 to 2009 in the Midwest, South and West, and all four areas (including the Northeast) saw increases in the number of people in poverty. In 2009, households in the West and Northeast had the highest median household incomes. That measure declined between 2008 and 2009 in the Midwest and West.

Women continued to earn less than men. In 2009, the median earnings of women who worked full-time, year-round were $36,278, or 77% of that for men, who earned $47,127. This wasn't statistically different from the 2008 ratio.

More Poverty, Less Health Insurance

With poverty growing, the number of people without health insurance coverage also rose -- from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009. The percentage also increased, from 15.4% to 16.7% over the same period. And the number of people with health insurance decreased -- the first year it happened since the bureau started tracking this in 1987.

When it comes to health insurance, again children were affected. In 2009, 10% (7.5 million) of children under 18 were without coverage, although that wasn't much different than 2008. But the uninsured rate for children in poverty (15.1%) was greater than the rate for all children.