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The poverty numbers you should worry about

The 2009 Census numbers are out, and the news is about as grim as we expected. Poverty jumped to 14.3 percent, the number of people without health-care insurance broke 50 million for the very first time and median household income fell by 0.7 percent -- a fall that probably looks a lot worse if you break it out by income brackets.

On the bright side, things weren't as bad as they could have been, and they're going to get better. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the original stimulus kept about 6.2 million families out of poverty. And the health-care reform law we passed earlier this year will turn our 50 million uninsured into 18 million uninsured within a decade. So: Progress!

But I want to draw your attention to the scariest numbers in the release, even though they're not from this year. Behold one of my least favorite graphs:

povertyrate2.jpg

We've seen a big jump in the poverty rate in the past two years, of course, but we also saw a mild increase in the years before that. Between 2001 and 2007, the poverty rate increased from 11.7 percent to 12.5 percent. But the economy grew in every one of those years. This was the first period since we began keeping records in which the economy expanded but poverty went up -- usually, economic expansions bring the poverty rate down. It's more evidence that the pre-crisis "normal" was an economy that wasn't working very well for a lot of people, even when it was growing.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 16, 2010; 4:40 PM ET
Categories:  Economy  
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Comments

It could be worse. Imagine if the government were run by the GOP. There would be social welfare cuts in programs like food stamps and reliance on trickle down economics in the form of income tax cuts, R&D credits, loans for businesses and the like. And don't forget extending the retirement age and cutting benefits for Social Security.

(does this qualify as satirical?)

Posted by: tuber | September 16, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Roughly 1 in 8 people are lazy bums that don't want work for a living. Number seems a little low to me.

Posted by: peterg73 | September 16, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

If I were...this graph would make me:
LBJ... proud
WJC... proud
GWB... sad, possibly ashamed.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | September 16, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

"The poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 (from 19.0 percent in 2008 to 20.7 percent in 2009) and people 18 to 64 (from 11.7 percent in 2008 to 12.9 percent in 2009), while it declined for people 65 and older (from 9.7 percent in 2008 to 8.9 percent in 2009)"..from the cited census report (thanks for the link).

This is the really scary statistic. It's time to focus assistance on young families. The over 65 set has the lowest level of poverty and is the only age group that saw a decline in poverty levels in 2009.

Posted by: Beagle1 | September 16, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Dear Ezra: What part of the full effects of W do you not understand?

What your graph shows you - you (whether you like it or not), me and U.S. - is that when Bill Clinton was in office both the poverty rate and numbers went down; AND that when you elected W both the numbers and the rate went back up.

Now, while tis nice of you to notice, finally, The Problem - that not only did W's economic expansion NOT benefit "the least of these", aka U.S.; but when [y]our economic world collapsed in the last year of W's massive shift in incomes, the poorest of U.S. exploded.

But, the numbers that you say scare you are not the worst ones! Please, note: most of the pre-retirement of U.S. - you know the long term unemployed - are, not being able to find ANY jobs, opting for SS retirement. They will NOT fall into your scary pit. You will never see them, unless you look. Will you?

However, those that are a wee bit too young to file for SS probably WILL - "fall down, and can't get up"! So also those who expire their UI benefits. As some of U.S. said, too often during Vietnam: "Incoming!"

In the last session, before losing control of Congress, the R's & W adopted the "nursing home spend down" provisions. You know you had to spend ALL of your assets in order to get any nursing home services.

Ezra, what you also did NOT see "incoming" was that now they also have required all of U.S. to "spend down" everything we worked our whole lives to put together, in order to survive this not quite "securitized RE" mess.

What a truly wonderful time, for you?, to "privatize" SS, and take away what little protection people your age have left to protect them.

Not to worry, Ezra! All we - you, me and U.S. - have to do is become "born again", "compassionate conservative", Christians, not just, like W. And, then W's God will take care of all of U.S..., like W promised!!!

Oh, and Ezra, have a nice day - even if it is your last.

Posted by: JGBellHimself | September 16, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

There are cultural factors at work that at least partly explain the increase in the poverty rate during the 2000's prior to the recession.

Census data is by household and average household size is shrinking due to divorce and an increase in out of wedlock births. Both factors increase the number of single women/mother households.

The poverty rate for a female householder without a husband present is close to 40 percent, according to the US Census Bureau.

Shrinking household size and increase single mother births are two factors that increase the risk of a household falling below the poverty line.

Posted by: MiltonRecht | September 16, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Dear Ezra: What part of the full effects of W do you not understand?

What your graph shows you - you (whether you like it or not), me and U.S. - is that when Bill Clinton was in office both the poverty rate and numbers went down; AND that when you elected W both the numbers and the rate went back up.

Now, while tis nice of you to notice, finally, The Problem - that not only did W's economic expansion NOT benefit "the least of these", aka U.S.; but when [y]our economic world collapsed in the last year of W's massive shift in incomes, the poorest of U.S. exploded.

But, the numbers that you say scare you are not the worst ones! Please, note: most of the pre-retirement of U.S. - you know the long term unemployed - are, not being able to find ANY jobs, opting for SS retirement. They will NOT fall into your scary pit. You will never see them, unless you look. Will you?

However, those that are a wee bit too young to file for SS probably WILL - "fall down, and can't get up"! So also those who expire their UI benefits. As some of U.S. said, too often during Vietnam: "Incoming!"

In the last session, before losing control of Congress, the R's & W adopted the "nursing home spend down" provisions. You know you had to spend ALL of your assets in order to get any nursing home services.

Ezra, what you also did NOT see "incoming" was that now they also have required all of U.S. to "spend down" everything we worked our whole lives to put together, in order to survive this not quite "securitized RE" mess.

What a truly wonderful time, for you?, to "privatize" SS, and take away what little protection people your age have left to protect them.

Not to worry, Ezra! All we - you, me and U.S. - have to do is become "born again", "compassionate conservative", Christians, not just, like W. And, then W's God will take care of all of U.S..., like W promised!!!

Oh, and Ezra, have a nice day - even if it is your last.

Posted by: JGBellHimself | September 16, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

It's pretty striking that there aren't just economic but obvious political correlations. and not just republican or democrat, but broadly like vs not liked.

Carter - poor
Regan - overall good (first term pretty horrible)
HW Bush - poor
Clinton - good
W - Poor
Obama - no wonder people are pissed


Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | September 16, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

The FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, the FEDERAL RESERVE, and their bankster friends on WALL STREET have wrecked the economy. We are in the early stages of GREAT DEPRESSION #2. That is why people are living in poverty. It's going to take a few more years for this fact to be driven into the thick skulls of the democrat-loving BS-peddling liberal news media. Right now we are coasting on the fumes from those multi-TRILLION dollar "stimuli".

Posted by: penniless_taxpayer | September 16, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Let's see. In 1960 there were few if any social programs to help the poor. Since 1960 we have spent a couple hundred gadzillion dollars on social programs to help the poor. In 2010 we are no better of than we were in 1960.

STUPID LIBERALS!!!!

Posted by: WHOOSONPHIRST | September 17, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

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