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:
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.
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.
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