The number of people living in poverty in the United States grew by 800,000 between 2006 and 2007, but the number of people without health insurance dropped by 1.3 million and real median household income rose by 1.3 percent.
Though the nation’s official poverty rate was statistically unchanged, remaining at 12.5 percent, the aggregate numbers climbed from 36.5 million to 37.3 million, according to “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007,” released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of people without health insurance dropped from 47 million (15.8 percent) in 2006 to 45.7 million (15.3 percent) in 2007 and real median household income reached $50,233, the third consecutive year it increased.
Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Washington, D.C., called the new data “disquieting,” despite modest improvements in overall median income and health insurance coverage. “Though 2007 was the sixth – and likely the final – year of an economic expansion, poverty was significantly higher, the median income of non-elderly households significantly lower, and the number and percentage of Americans who are uninsured substantially greater than in 2001 – even though the economy was in a recession that year,” he said.
Though the number of Americans without health insurance dropped for the first time since 2000, said Elise Gould, an economist and health care specialist at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the percent of Americans with employer-based coverage fell for the seventh consecutive year.
As employer-based coverage has dropped (from 59.7 percent of the population to 59.3), the percentage of those enrolled in public programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, has increased (27 percent to 27.8 percent), said Edwin Park, a senior fellow at CBPP. “The concern is whether this can continue into 2008,” Park said. With states facing budget deficits, he said, they might cut these public programs like they did in the early part of the decade.
The 2007 numbers are of particular concern, Greenstein said, since the economy is now in a slowdown and “poverty is almost certainly higher now – and incomes lower.” The number and percentages are sure to rise next year and into 2009, Greenstein said, suggesting “significant pain may lie ahead for many Americans.”
The number of children living in poverty increased by a half-million, to 13.3 million, and the poverty rate among kids jumped from 17.4 percent in 2006 to 18 percent last year.
“Despite a slight gain of $665 last year, middle-income households are no better off now that they were at the prior economic peak of 2000,” said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at EPI. “In other words, the economic recovery of the 2000s, which ended last year, has done very little to boost their living standards. They’ve done their part, contributing to strong productivity growth, but they’ve far too little to show for it,” he said.
Catholic Charities USA and its 1,700 local member agencies serve almost 8 million people in need each year, according to the Rev. Larry Snyder, president. “The downturn in the economy is making matters worse. Across our nation, Catholic Charities agencies are seeing more and more people having to choose between putting food on the table, paying their utility bills, or making their rent or mortgage payments,” he said.
“Needing help with food, rent, clothing, and prescriptions are all symptoms of much larger problems facing the poor and vulnerable in America, such as low wages and the lack of affordable housing and health care. These are problems that must be addressed if we are ever going to cut poverty in our country and create better economic opportunities for all,” Snyder said.
Catholic Charities USA launched the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, which aims to cut the poverty rate in half by 2020. The organization has representatives attending this week’s Democratic Convention in Denver and will be at the Republican Convention in Minneapolis next week.
“In this election year, candidates for public office — especially our presidential candidates — must move from rhetoric to action and propose comprehensive plans to address the needs of more than 37 million people living in poverty in the United States over the next decade,” said Snyder. “We call on all Americans to ask their candidates, ‘If elected, what will you do to address poverty?’”
This article is from NPT Weekly, a publication of The NonProfit Times.
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