Poverty Rates: Study Reveals Recession Highs


It’s not surprising that poverty in the United States increased after the recession. That said, just how much of a jump was seen is worth taking a look at. The U.S. government continues to work toward economic recovery, with Congress discussing $9 billion in food stamp cuts — $31 billion less than what Republicans suggested — and the Federal Reserve scaling back on its quantitative easing program.

The Census Bureau this month released a study that takes a look at changes in poverty numbers between 2009 and 2011. While the number of individuals considered in poverty showed a highly significant jump and demographics across the board suffered, the length of time people remained in poverty did not change much from the 36 months between 2005 to 2007.

Between 2009 and 2011, according to the report, 31.6 percent of the U.S. population was in poverty for a minimum of two months; this is compared to the 27.1 percent in poverty between 2005 and 2007. Still, not all individuals affected remained in poverty for the full span of 36 months — of those in poverty in 2009, 35.4 percent of the 31.6 percent figure were no longer in poverty by 2011. Even so, half of those individuals no longer considered in poverty were still making an income that was below 150 percent of the threshold amount.

Skipping forward to more recent data, 2012 showed an official poverty rate of 15 percent, translating to 46.5 million individuals, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While lower than projections made in 2011, the poverty rate was still 2.5 percentage points greater than in 2007. According to the Washington Post, though, the official poverty rate the study utilized has been criticized as an inaccurate measure of reality.

The Washington Post references a secondary poverty study of the same period, noting that it comes to similar conclusions, though the study in question did state that poverty would have been more severe without government programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance.

According to the Census Bureau report, when looking at poverty from 2005 to 2007 compared with the 2009 and 2011 block of time, “the percentage of people who were in a poverty spell at the beginning of the period and remained poor for the entire 36 months were not statistically different.”

The study used the definition of poverty as outlined by the Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Policy Directive 14. Families were given an income threshold, which changes depending on the size and makeup of families. When their income was below the threshold, adjusted yearly for cost-of-living changes, the family or individual was considered to be in poverty.

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