Defying predictions, the Census Bureau just reported that 14.8% of people in the U.S. — roughly 46.7 million — were officially poor last year. Both the rate and the raw number are so little different from 2013 as to be statistically the same.
The newest rate is 2.3% higher than in 2007, shortly before the recession set in. This is yet further evidence that our economic recovery hasn’t brought recovery to everybody.
Much has rightly been made of flaws in the official measure the figures reflect. These include what the Census Bureau counts and doesn’t as income and the thresholds it perforce uses, i.e., the household incomes that set the upper limits for poverty.
The figures nevertheless represent reasonably accurate trends over time. So they’re disheartening, especially because improvements in the labor market suggested we’d see somewhat lower rates.
Also disheartening is the essentially unchanged deep poverty rate, i.e., the percent of people who lived (who knows how?) on pre-tax cash incomes less than half the applicable threshold — 6.6%. This is a full percent higher than in 2007.
Poverty rates for the major age groups the report breaks out also flat-lined. We thus still see basically the same large disparities.
As in the past, the child poverty rate was markedly higher than the overall rate — 21.1%. It translates into well over 15.5 million children — a third of all poor people in our country. About 6.8 million children — 9.3% — lived in deep poverty.
The senior poverty rate was again the lowest of the three the age groups — 10% or roughly 4.6 million people 65 and older. For seniors, the deep poverty rate apparently ticked up to 3.2%.
We still see marked disparities among major race/ethnicity groups too. For example:
- The poverty rate for blacks was more than two and a half times the rate for non-Hispanic whites — 26.2%, as compared to 10.1%.
- For blacks, the deep poverty rate was 12%, while only 4.6% of non-Hispanic whites were that poor.
- The poverty rate for Hispanics was 23.6% and the deep poverty rate 9.6%.
- By contrast, the poverty rate for Asians was 12% and the deep poverty rate 5.6%. Several analyses suggest we’d see a quite different picture if the Census Bureau differentiated among the sub-populations this group comprises.
Bottom line, I suppose, is that we’ve got new numbers, but no real change. So they tell the same old story. We’ve got a lot of prosperity in this country, but it’s far from equally shared.
We know quite a bit about how we could move toward greater economic and social justice. What we don’t have is the political will where we most need it.
NOTE: The Census Bureau simultaneously released the results of its Supplemental Poverty Measure — a departure from past practice. I’ll deal with them separately.
UPDATE: I’ve learned that the reason the U.S. poverty rate for 2014 isn’t statistically different from the 2013 rate is that the Census Bureau reported results from a redesigned survey it began using last year, along with the old survey. Last year, it reported what the old survey showed. This year, what the new one did.