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A Hungry and Poor America: What 2010 Tells Us

Posted by Elyssa Koidin  

10:32 AM Sep 22, 2011

On September 13th, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2010 report on “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the U.S.” The results of this report were not surprising for the millions of Americans who struggle to feed their children, pay for their medicine, and keep a roof over their heads every day. The report revealed that nearly 1 in 6 Americans lived in poverty in 2010.  Additionally, the report indicated that real median household income in the United States declined 2.3 percent between 2009 and 2010 to $49,445.

The official poverty rate for 2010 was 15.1% or 46.2 million people. This is the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number of people living in poverty in the fifty-two years the study has been in existence. In 2010, 9.2 million families were living in poverty. The poverty rate for children went from 20.7% in 2009 to 22% in 2010. This study also presents data on health insurance coverage. The number of people without health insurance rose from 49 million in 2009 to 49.9 million in 2010.

Photo by Joel Stettenheim/Corbis

This data comes on the heels of the September 7th United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) annual report on food insecurity, which found that more than 48.8 million Americans lived in households struggling with hunger in 2010. Of those that are food insecure, 16.2 million are children (21.6%). According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), “The 2010 numbers, virtually across-the-board, were flat or better than in 2009, though still about one-third higher than in 2007, before the recession wreaked havoc with America’s low-income and working families.”

Though this data provides a rather dismal view of the American economy and the ongoing struggle of those affected by the recession, it also makes a strong argument for the critical assistance provided by safety net programs. The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) noted, “The Census Bureau data also showed the benefits of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Programs, Unemployment Insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and SNAP/food stamps. Children were more likely to have health insurance than working age adults, because of their greater coverage through Medicaid and CHIP.” The Census Bureau also found (in unpublished data) that Unemployment Insurance lifted 3.2 million people out of poverty and SNAP/food stamps prevented 3.9 million people (including 1.7 million children) from falling into poverty.

It is important to highlight that these programs are helping the people they were designed to assist, exactly at the time they are most in need. As deficit reduction discussions continue, the need for programs like SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance must be emphasized. These programs make a real difference in the lives of our country’s most vulnerable and should not fall victim to deficit reduction cuts, structural changes in the name of savings, or attempts to shrink the size of the federal government.

For more information on these issues please contact Elyssa Koidin.

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