More Americans are Poor than Ever Before, Census Finds

Available data can tell a story. As the economy continues its downward trend, poverty is increasing, as is demand for programs to help people who now need a safety net–like food stamps, unemployment insurance and health insurance for their kids.
Since the programs intended to fight poverty were implemented in the 1960s, there have been critics who questioned whether the anti-poverty programs were effective. While not sufficient to reverse the deleterious effects of an impaired economy, it does appears that they are helping a substantial number of people stay above the poverty line. Of course, that line is set pretty low for many urban areas–so many people are worse off economically than the numbers show.
Many people, who thought they would always be able to keep a job, are discovering that they are indeed vulnerable to larger economic forces.
Perhaps, this might generate support for the idea that providing a basic safety net is a fundamental function of government.
A more radical idea is that we can no longer have blind faith in the market economy to protect the public’s interest or assume that the private sector actually can ensure a healthy economy that works for all. Perhaps we will be willing to look at lessons from the past that demonstrated the need for some degree of government oversight, regulation and safety nets to protect people from harm brought about by poor choices made by corporations. As Enron amply demonstrated, the private sector does not inherently have the smartest guys in the room. Not only are quick-buck approaches not sustainable, they can cause job loss and the economy to fail.
The past few years have clearly demonstrated that the private sector is a problem. The economy continues to fail, despite huge government infusions of cash and tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and large corporations. Throwing money at the rich does not result in a healthy economy!
At $12 trillion in debt and an increasing poverty rate along with rising unemployment rates, are we ready now to say that trickle down economics do not work?
And are we ready to consider the need to impose severe limits on corporate influence in the political arena?

Published on Thursday, September 16, 2010 by the McClatchy Newspapers
More Americans are Poor than Ever Before, Census Finds

by Tony Pugh

WASHINGTON – The withering recession pushed the number of Americans who are living in poverty to a 51-year high in 2009 and left a record 50.7 million people without health insurance last year, the Census Bureau announced Thursday.

The 43.6 million Americans who were poor in 2009 – up from 39.8 million the year before – was the most since poverty estimates were first published in 1959. The national poverty rate of 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008, was the highest since 1994.

Were it not for federal intervention in the form of extended unemployment insurance benefits, 3.3 million more people would have fallen into poverty last year, said David Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau’s division on housing and household economics.

Food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helped keep 2.3 million more people out of poverty.

Massive job losses and work reductions for hourly employees led the number of uninsured Americans to rise from 46.3 million people in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009. The number of Americans who have health coverage decreased – from 255 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009 – for the first time since the data began to be measured in 1987.

Most of that decline stemmed from a loss in the percentage of people who have private and job-based coverage. The number of people with either fell from 201 million in 2008 to 194.5 million last year. The percentage with job-based coverage fell from 58.5 percent in 2008 to 55.8 percent last year, the lowest coverage rate since 1987.

As more people lost jobs and were unable to afford private coverage, enrollment spiked in government insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In all, the number of people with government-sponsored coverage went from 87.4 million in 2008 to 93.2 million last year.


Census report on income, poverty and health coverage in 2009
Copyright © 2010 McClatchy Newspapers

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