The Poverty Rate Steadies and Children Remain the Poorest

According to the latest Census data released today, 22% of children are poor and the overall poverty rate remains steady at 15%. Shamefully high, 46.2 million people are in poverty, struggling to meet their basic needs let alone help their families thrive. Many families in poverty are resilient, but for too many it is an intractable barrier to securing health and safety. The report also shows that the Affordable Care Act increased access to health insurance. At the same time, the median household income dropped for the second year in row.

In 2010, 46.3 million people were poor (15.1%), a statistically insignificant change to the 2011 poverty rate of 15%. This Census data derives from the Current Population Survey, a more than 50 year old survey of 100,000 Americans per year. In this survey, poverty is defined this year as a family of four earning less than $23,021. It counts Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but not other government benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Without counting UI, 2.3 million more people would have been poor. With some UI benefits expiring in 2011, this is down from 3.2 million in 2010. Without counting SSI, 21.4 million more people would have been poor. If SNAP benefits were counted, 3.9 million people including 1.7 million children are lifted out of poverty. If EITC were counted, 5.7 million people including 3.1 million children are lifted out of poverty.

Looking at the way calculating these benefits changes the poverty picture, it is clear that government action makes a difference—including the requirements to allow children up to age 26 to stay on their parents insurance and to prevent children with preexisting conditions from being denied coverage, which increased the number of people with insurance. In 2010, 50 million (16.3%) people needed coverage, in 2011 48.6 million (15.7%) people need coverage.

With the overall economy growing while median family income declines, we can and must do more to strengthen our families by sharing our prosperity.

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