The State of Poverty 2010

U.S. Census Bureau figures released this week reveal that poverty levels were on the rise in 2010, with the percentage of Americans living in poverty at its highest point in 17 years.  Poverty rates range from a low of 6.6 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 22.7 percent in Mississippi.  Over the past 10 years the poverty rate increased in all but three states.  

The national poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, or about 46.2 million people, which is the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published by the Census. That’s up from 14.3 percent in 2009 and is the third consecutive annual increase in the measure. The poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314.

State-By-State Poverty Trends

Not all states were affected equally by the economic recession - the principal cause for the rise in poverty - and thus the change in poverty rates varied considerably across states. From 2009 to 2010, 16 states saw their poverty rates fall, one state stayed the same and the rates in 33 states increased. From 2000 to 2010 however, the poverty rate increased in all but three states – Wyoming, Arkansas and Kansas.

The Brookings Institution estimates that at the current trajectory, the recession will have caused 10 million additional people to live at or below the poverty level by 2015.   

Source: Author’s Calculations of data from U.S. Census Report - Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010

Median Income Takes a Hit

In addition to an increase in the poverty rate, the Census report found that real median household income actually declined between 2009 and 2010.  Real median household income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445, representing a 2.3 percent decline from the 2009 median – a level not seen since 1996.

Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard, pointed out to the New York Times that this is troubling statistic, explaining that it was the first time since the Great Depression that inflation-adjusted median household income had not risen over such a long period. Since the recession began, real median household income has dropped 6.4 percent.   

Graphic from the New York Times

State-by-State Income Trends

From 2009 to 2010, inflation-adjusted median household income fell in 21 states.  The largest decline was in Louisiana, where median household income dropped nearly $6,000, or 13 percent.  Nebraska, Delaware, Vermont and Colorado each saw median income increase by more than $3,000, with Colorado seeing an increase of $4,512, or 8.1 percent.  

Change in Median Household Income from 2009 to 2010, inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars

Source: Author’s Calculations of data from U.S. Census Report - Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010

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