Poverty Rate Rose to 17-Year High in 2010

The poverty rate in the U.S. rose to 15.1% in 2010, its highest level since 1993, according to census data released Tuesday. In 2009, 14.3% of Americans were living in poverty.

“The results are not surprising given the economy,” said Paul Osterman, a labor economist at MIT. “You would expect with so many people unemployed, the poverty rate would go up. It’s just another sign of what a difficult time this is for so many people.” The latest figures have 46.2 million Americans living in poverty last year, 2.6 million more than in 2009.

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For 2010, the U.S. government defines the poverty line as income at or below $11,139 a year for an individual, or $22,314 a year for a family of four. Each year, the Office of Management and Budget adjusts the poverty line to account for inflation.

The census data also showed that the media household income for middle-class families declined from $49,777 in 2009 to $49,445 in 2010. When adjusting for inflation, the average middle-income family earned only 11% more in 2010 than it did in 1980, while the richest 5% of Americans saw their incomes climb 42%. Last year, households making $100,000 or more saw their incomes increase still further, while the bottom 60% of households saw their income fall last year as the nation’s wealth gap continued to widen.

The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 also increased in 2010. At a rate of 22%, more than 1 in 5 children in the U.S. are living in poverty. The poverty rate for adults ages 18 to 64 rose to 13.7%, while it remained little changed at 9% for Americans 65 or older.

When broken down by race, the poverty rate was lowest among non-hispanic whites at 9.9%, while 27.4$ of African Americans were living in poverty, 26.6% of people of Hispanic origin, and 12.1% of Asians. In terms of gender, more women were living below the poverty line than men, the former at 16.2% while the latter came in at 14%.

The statistics show that families headed by a single mother were the most likely to be living in poverty at 31.6%, while families led by a single father had a 15.8% poverty rate and families headed by a married couple came in well below the national average at just 6.2%.

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Southern states were hit the hardest of any region. The median household income in Mississippi was $37,985, the lowest of any state, while New Hampshire households had the highest median income at $66,707. The poverty rate in the South was 16.9% last year, while the poverty rate in the Northeast was the lowest in the country at 12.8%. The poverty rates in the Midwest and the West were 13.9% and 15.3%, respectively.

The census data also showed that more Americans were uninsured in 2010 than in 2009. The number of Americans without health benefits climbed from 49 million to 49.9 million last year, roughly 16.3% of the U.S. population.