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Recession swells ranks of the nation’s poor

1 in 7 in poverty, census reports

By Hope Yen
Associated Press / September 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The ranks of the working-age poor climbed to the highest level since the 1960s as the recession threw millions of people out of work last year, leaving 1 in 7 Americans in poverty.

The overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people, the Census Bureau said yesterday in its annual report on the economic well-being of US households. The report covers 2009, President Obama’s first year in office.

The poverty rate climbed from 13.2 percent, or 39.8 million people, in 2008.

The share of Americans without health coverage rose from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent — or 50.7 million people — mostly because of the loss of employer-provided health insurance during the recession. Congress passed a health overhaul this year to address rising numbers of the uninsured, but the main provisions will not take effect until 2014.

The new figures come at a politically sensitive time, just weeks before the Nov. 2 congressional elections, when voters restive about high unemployment and the slow pace of economic improvement will decide whether to keep Democrats in control on Capitol Hill or turn to Republicans.

The 14.3 percent poverty rate, which covers all ages, was the highest since 1994. Still, it was lower than estimates of many demographers who were bracing for a record gain based on last year’s skyrocketing unemployment. Many had predicted a range of 14.7 percent to 15 percent.

Analysts credited, in part, increases in Social Security payments in 2009 as well as federal expansions of unemployment insurance, which rose substantially in 2009 under the economic stimulus program.