US Census Bureau Confirms Rising Poverty, Falling Incomes, and Growing Numbers of Uninsured - by Stephen Lendman
In early September, The US Census Bureau released its new report titled, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008" showing disturbing data that portends much worse ahead under a president and Congress doing nothing to address it.
In 2008, poverty reached 13.2% of the population, its highest level in 11 years, the result of millions losing jobs during the first year of the gravest economic crisis since the 1930s. For blacks, the figure was nearly double at 24.7%, and 31% of all Americans were impoverished for at least two months between 2004 and 2007, years of economic expansion.
At yearend 2008, even by the Bureau's conservative measures, 39.8 million people were impoverished, the highest level since 1960, and 17.1 million lived in extreme poverty at below one-half the official threshold. In addition, for the first time since the 1930s, median household income failed to increase over a 10-year period from 1999 - 2008.
The Census Bureau states that it "presents annual estimates of median household income and poverty by state and other smaller geographic units based on data collected in the American Community Survey (ACS)" covering population areas of 20,000 or more. The Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program also produces yearly figures "for states and all counties, as well as population and poverty estimates for school districts." It uses data from a variety of sources, including surveys, administrative records, inter-censal population estimates, and personal income data published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Critics maintain that official government figures way understate the gravity of today's crisis, and the Bureau says:
"The official poverty thresholds were developed more than 40 years ago and have been criticized for not taking into account rising (or since the 1970s inflation-adjusted falling) standards of living, expenses such as child care that are necessary to hold a job, variations in medical costs across population groups (that have skyrocketed nationally and are now unaffordable for millions), and geographic differences in the cost of living."
In addition, income and poverty estimates are pre-tax and exclude non-cash benefits, usually employer-provided. Disposable personal income, after income, payroll, sales, property and other taxes, reveals a far higher poverty level than the Census Bureau reports and a much graver crisis for growing millions as the economic decline deepens.
The Bureau reported that 2008 median (inflation adjusted) household income fell 3.6%, the largest single-year decline on record to the lowest level since 1997 and falling as conditions continue to worsen.
The plight of the poor and impoverished shows up in numerous other reports that paint a darker picture than the Census Bureau and suggest much worse ahead:
-- an unprecedented, growing disparity between the very rich and other income groups;
-- economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez's research showing the top 1% of households got two-thirds of the national income growth during the last recovery, a larger share than at any time since the 1920s;
-- wages losing ground to inflation;
-- millions of children dependent on school lunches for a hot meal;
-- an Economic Policy Institute estimate of one-quarter of all children living in poverty by yearend 2009;
-- the continued erosion of employer and government-provided benefits, including at the state and local levels; the growing uninsured crisis is discussed below;