story by Catherine Dodge, Frank Bass and Alex Wayne
The U.S. poverty rate remained at almost a two-decade high last year, while household income fell, underscoring a sputtering economic recovery that’s at the heart of the presidential campaign.
The U.S. Census Bureau released figures today (Sept. 12) that showed the proportion of people living in poverty was 15% in 2011, little changed from 15.1% in 2010, while median household income slipped 1.5%.
“The recession is going to have long-term effects on the poverty rate, which our projections suggest is going to hang high for many years to come,” said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who studies poverty issues.
Americans’ economic struggles are the focus of November’s presidential election. Republican Mitt Romney argues that people are worse off because of President Barack Obama’s economic policies. Obama counters that Romney would push policies that benefit the wealthiest at the expense of the middle-class and those striving to get out of poverty.
The data also show the number of Americans who lack health insurance declined to 15.7% from 16.3%. The number of people without health insurance fell last year, as many under the age of 26 took advantage of a provision in President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul allowing them to be covered under their parents’ plans.
About 540,000 more young people were insured in 2011, helping to keep the proportion of uninsured Americans at about 15.7%, the Census Bureau said in a report today. About 48.6 million people were uninsured last year, compared with 49.9 million a year earlier.
The number of uninsured Americans ages 19 to 25 improved to 27.7%, or two percentage points fewer than a year earlier, as the 2010 law’s mandate for that group took effect. Starting in 2014, the law expands Medicaid, the state-run health program for the poor, and opens new government-run insurance exchanges that may add coverage to about 30 million people.
“A lot of the fall in the uninsured rate and hence the increase in insurance coverage is due to the 19- to 25-year-old age group,” David Johnson, chief of the social, economic and housing division at the Census, said on a conference call.
The proportion of people in the country without insurance has risen steadily since the turn of the century, a major impetus for Obama’s effort to overhaul the health system. There were 44.8 million people, or 14.9% of the population, without insurance in 2008, at the end of President George W. Bush’s term, and 36.6 million, or 13.1%, uninsured in 2000, at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration, according to Census data.
Obama’s administration previously estimated that 3.1 million people who would otherwise lack insurance this year took advantage of the health law to join their parents’ coverage.
About 63.9% of Americans had private health insurance in 2011, unchanged from 2010, the Census said. It was the first year in a decade that the proportion of people with private insurance didn’t fall.