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Poverty in the United States

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Document date: September 13, 2011
Released online: September 13, 2011


The U.S. Census Bureau has announced that the poverty rate jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 and 13.2 percent in 2008. This 18-year high still understates the dire straits of many Americans today. The devastation of poverty grows more severe over time as individuals exhaust private resources and temporary benefits.

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The U.S. poverty rate continued its upward march in 2010, increasing to 15.1 percent from 14.3 percent in 2009 and 13.2 percent in 2008. There were 46.2 million poor people in 2010, compared with 43.2 million in 2009. The poverty rate now looms higher than it has since 1993, and median income has fallen to $49,445, erasing the gains made since 1996. The gradual rise in poverty understates the full effect of the current unemployment crisis, as is hinted at in figure 1, which shows the dramatic rise in long-term unemployment. The devastation of poverty grows more severe over time, as individuals exhaust private resources and temporary benefits, and many of those now poor face reduced prospects for escaping poverty in the near future. The “Great Recession” that began in December 2007 officially ended in June 2009, but the employment rate has continued to fall (reaching its lowest level since 1983 in July 2011).

History shows that unemployment and poverty rates keep rising after a recession ends. This has proved even more true in the last three recessions of 1990, 2001, and 2007 than in those of 1973, 1980, and 1981. Poverty rates likely will continue to rise in 2011 because the job market remains sluggish. The Unemployment and Recovery Project examines the unemployment crisis and its effects; see http://www.urban.org/unemployment/ for more.

If unemployment benefits had not been counted toward family income, 3.2 million more people would have been poor, indicating how important unemployment benefits have been in the past year.

As unemployment remains high, many workers are exhausting the 26-week limit on regular unemployment benefits and the 99-week limit on extended unemployment benefits (Vroman 2010). The proportion of unemployed persons without work for more than 26 weeks jumped from 22 percent in January 2009 to 42 percent in January 2010, and rose even higher to 45 percent in January 2011. The median duration of unemployment peaked in June 2010 at 25.5 weeks, nearly six months without work.

End of excerpt. The complete fact sheet with graph and footnotes is available in PDF format.

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Families and Parenting | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net

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