The report reveals the devastating impact on broad swaths of the population from the deep recession, prolonged unemployment and declining household incomes. During the past year, the percentage of Americans living in poverty rose to 14.3 percent. Poverty levels have risen most sharply among young children, young adults from 25 to 34 years old and blacks and Hispanics.
Within one year, about 4 million more Americans fell below the poverty threshold, which in 2009 was an annual income of $10,830 for a single adult or $22,050 for a family of four. An admittedly imprecise instrument, the federal poverty measure nonetheless presents a credible record of the degree of economic distress in the nation. There were more Americans in poverty last year roughly 44 million than at any time since such tracking began in 1959. In Ohio, the poverty rate climbed a full percentage point, from 12.5 percent to 13.5 percent, with as many as 117,000 Ohioans slipping below the line.
As job losses go in the nation's battered economy, so goes health coverage. The ranks of the uninsured in 2009 ballooned to 50.7 million from 46 million in 2008, employer-sponsored coverage dipping steeply.
It bears repeating that the 2009 statistics would have been even more stark without the expansion of various government benefits and assistance programs. An estimated one in seven adults last year received federal food-stamp aid. The Census Bureau's report noted that extended unemployment benefits helped 3 million stay above the poverty line. Federal stimulus funds have helped states and municipalities retain thousands of jobs across the country. In health care, federal subsidies helped reduce the cost of COBRA coverage for unemployed workers.
Such temporary aid has not halted the rise of poverty, obviously, but it has made a difference to millions in an economy still wobbling. Ohio, for example, could help reduce the financial stress on households by addressing foreclosures, yet the state Senate has stalled legislation that would assist the vulnerable. The cost of health care is another key burden on families. The poverty figures show the necessity of such elements of health-care reform as expanding Medicaid to cover the lowest-paid workers and creating an insurance market for the uninsured.
The growing impoverishment in America and in Ohio again makes the compelling case for both short-term measures that provide relief and longer-term measures that will reduce poverty.