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The New Census Numbers

The new U.S. Census numbers are out, and they don't show much in the way of changes: Median income dropped a bit, poverty rose a bit, and so too did the number of Americans without health insurance. But the actual changes aren't very large. There are two reasons for that.

The first is that the "new" numbers cover 2008 rather than 2009: That period was more about the financial crisis than the recession. For comparison, in August of 2008, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent. By August of 2009, it was 9.7 percent.

The second is that the safety net picked up the slack. This graph from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tells some of the story:

9-10-09health-f1e.JPG

That seems a bit strange, right? Why would middle-income families drive the growth in the uninsured rate? The answer, basically, is that low-income families, or families that became low-income, were saved by public programs.

9-10-09pov-f3.jpg

One lesson of these numbers is that middle-income families are indeed vulnerable. If I'm reading the data correctly, a solid 5.1 percent of the non-elderly population lost employer-sponsored health insurance in 2008. That suggests health costs have left employers pretty sensitive to changes in the economy. But the Obama administration is building its health-care reform around the employer market. That's a pretty fragile foundation. There's been a lot of attention paid to the promise that people in the employer market can keep what they have, at least so far as the government is concerned. But employers and the economy have made no similar promise.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 11, 2009; 11:34 AM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs  
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Comments

Ezra:

You note that "If I'm reading the data correctly, a solid 5.1 percent of the non-elderly population lost employer-sponsored health insurance in 2008." I don't believe you are reading the data correctly. Instead, I think the data shows that the percentage of the non-elderly population who received insurance through their employer decreased 5.1% in the period between 2001 and 2008

Posted by: DKB1 | September 11, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

As I said inb a comment below, according to a guy on CNBC this morning who had done a survey of business people, a large majority favored reform, citing health care costs as their number one concern. And a majority supported the public option. It's not just that they want to off-load their employees' costs, but they themselves often have to buy on the individual market and know how bad it is. If the exchanges are strong enough, if the employer penalties aren't tied to the cost of the employees' care, if there is some kind of public option, then it can be scaled up according to demand. These trends show the demand will be there. Something has to step into the void, as for-profit insurance can't meet the need for affordability, and the employer market is dwindling.

I still wish they had let people over 50 or 55 buy into Medicare (which I have and love), but the trends are unmistakeable here. I just don't see employer coverage expanding when/if the economy recovers.

And Obama realizes the problem, as he now says "Nothing in this plan" will cause you to have to lose coverage, and he acknowledges that without reform job changes will, however. And so will employers dropping care.

Posted by: Mimikatz | September 11, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

The employer market has been steadily shedding coverage for ten years. Kaiser Family Foundation has good studies on this. It is mainly lead by smaller employers who can no longer afford coverage for their active employees, and all size employers dropping retiree medical as fast as possible.

I don't think it is a problem "building reform around the base of employer sponsored health insurance". What it does mean, though, is more and more individuals are going to be in the private market....so the insurance reforms and regulations there are absolutely critical.

Posted by: scott1959 | September 11, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

The cencus will certainly be a lot cleaner and people will have more faith in its validity without ACORN, who have just been handed their walking papers.

Corruption has no place in the census.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | September 11, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Mimikatz....employer coverage will not expand for pre-65 retirees (if that is what you were getting at), regardless of how well the economy does. Ever since the Financial Accounting Standards Board changed the way companies had to expense and accrue post employment liabilities in 1993, companies have been offloading this coverage as fast as they could. What used to be a rather small cash expense ballooned into an accounting expense that could easily be 6-7 times as large and CFOs (and shareholders) want it gone. Which is why the age 50 or 55 buy in to Medicare would have been a good solution.A growing portion of the uninsured are these early retirees.

Posted by: scott1959 | September 11, 2009 11:58 PM | Report abuse

"Median income dropped a bit ..."

A bit? The 3.6 percent decline in household median income is the largest single-year decline in the 40 some years Census has been tracking it—if you look at the decline in family median income, it's the largest decline in the 60 some years Census has been tracking that. The single-year decline is bigger than the three-year declines over each of the periods that include the last two recessions.

Posted by: inclusionist1 | September 13, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

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