Census Data: For Record Number of Americans, Recession Is Far From Over

Poverty has been rising for much of the last decade
View more charts
from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interpreting the Census data

National poverty rate hit 15.1% last year, the highest level since 1993

As the recession took its toll last year, more Americans fell into poverty, saw their incomes decline and joined the ranks of the uninsured, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau released the results of its annual Current Population Survey today in a new report — the first to include a full year of data from the Great Recession.

During 2010, the poverty rate increased to 15.1%, the highest level since 1993, with a record-breaking 46.2 million American adults and children living in poverty. Median household income also declined, and the number of individuals without health insurance increased again, now approaching 50 million.

Public programs continued to play an important role in blunting the full force of the economic downturn. An estimated 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty through unemployment insurance coverage, while public health programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) helped to fill the gap as employment-based coverage declined once again.

One bit of good news: more young adults had health insurance coverage in 2010 than the year before thanks to a provision of the Affordable Care Act allowing young adults up to age 25 to remain on their parents’ health insurance. The proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds with insurance rose from 70.7% in 2009 to 72.8% in 2010.

The Current Population Survey is most appropriate for national level data, but its sample sizes are not as reliable for state-level data. The American Community Survey (ACS), which will be released on September 22, has the most accurate data for states and localities. We have included some Pennsylvania results below, although we average data over two years for greater accuracy. While it is tempting to compare state numbers from 2009 to 2010, the ACS will provide better year-to-year comparisons.

The National Highlights

Poverty is up. The poverty rate grew from 14.3% in 2009 to 15.1% in 2010, while the number of people in poverty grew by 2.6 million, from 43.6 million to 46.2 million. The poverty rate is the highest since 1993, and the number of people in poverty is the largest recorded in 52 years.

More children are in poverty. The share of children in poverty nationally rose from 20.7% in 2009 to 22% in 2010. The number of children in poverty grew by 950,000, from 15.5 million to 16.4 million.

Children are more likely to be poor than adults. The share of children in poverty (22%) is higher than the share of working-age adults (13.7%) or seniors (9.0%). In 2010, children were over four times more likely to be living in poverty than seniors.

Income is down. Median household income in 2010 declined from 2009 by $1,154, or 2.3%.

Public benefits work. Public benefit programs such as unemployment insurance, Food Stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit on household income played an important role in making up for reduced jobs, wages and hours in the private sector. In 2010, 3.9 million Americans, including 1.9 million children, were lifted out of poverty because of Food Stamps, while 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty by unemployment insurance benefits.

More people are uninsured. The number of Americans without health insurance increased from 49 million to 49.9 million, although the share of people without insurance remains statistically unchanged at 16.1%.

Employment-based health coverage continues to decline. The share of Americans receiving health insurance through an employer declined again, going from 56.1% in 2009 to 55.3% in 2010, while public coverage increased from 30.6% to 31%. Coverage through Medicaid, at 15.9%, was statistically unchanged.

The Pennsylvania Story

The story of the recession is very similar in Pennsylvania. Compared to before the recession (2006-2007), the current two-year period (2009-2010) is marked by lower incomes, higher poverty and reduced employment-based coverage for adults and children.

Median income has declined through the recession. Median household income in Pennsylvania fell by $2,965, or 5.7%, since the beginning of the recession, dropping from $51,679 in 2006-2007 to $48,714 during 2009-2010. During the same period, median income in the U.S. dropped by 4.7%.

Poverty is statistically unchanged. At 11.8%, total poverty in Pennsylvania is statistically unchanged since the recession began. Poverty is significantly higher in Pennsylvania and nationally since the last economic expansion, rising from 9% in 1999-2000 to 11.7% in 2009-2010. Poverty rose by 3.1% nationwide during that time period.

Pennsylvanians are losing employer-sponsored health insurance at a faster rate than the nation. In the last decade, the percentage of non-elderly Pennsylvanians who received health coverage through work decreased from 76.3% to 66.4%. While this is still a larger share than in the nation as a whole, the decrease of 9.9 percentage points was larger in Pennsylvania.

More Pennsylvanians are relying on public health insurance. Over 1.7 million, or about one in six, non-elderly Pennsylvanians rely on public health care, largely through Medicaid. This has increased by 791,000 in the last decade. Slightly fewer than 250,000 Pennsylvanians have been added since the start of the recession in 2007-2008.

Almost one in three children in Pennsylvania have government health coverage through programs like CHIP. This amounts to 875,000 children, or 31.2% of the population under 18. The share of children with this type of coverage has nearly doubled in the last decade, increasing from 17.6% in 1999-2000 to 31.4% in 2009-2010.

The number of non-elderly Pennsylvanians who are uninsured increased from 10.9% in 2007-2008 to 12.8% in 2009-2010. This represents an additional 214,000 people without health coverage. However, the number and share of children who are uninsured is unchanged during this same period, likely due to public health coverage options.

Syndicate content