Poverty up, uninsured up

WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Great Recession hit home and hit hard in 2009, the Census Bureau said, as the number of uninsured leaped by 4.4 million in one year - to almost 51 million - and the poverty rate jumped by 1.1 percentage points, to 14.3 percent.

"We found a big drop in private employment-based insurance," said David Johnson, the census' chief of household economic data, in releasing the numbers on Sept. 16. "A lot of that is due to people moving from full-time work to part-time work or from working to not working," he added.

The figures were released two weeks after the government had said that its anti-poverty programs are serving a record one in six Americans. Those figures, released on Aug. 29, show that more than 50 million are now on Medicaid, a program aimed principally at the poor, up 17 percent since the recession began in December, 2007.

More than 40 million are now on food stamps, a 50 percent increase during the same period.

The number receiving unemployment benefits has quadrupled to 10 million and there has been an 18 percent hike in the number on welfare, now up to 4.4 million, since the recession began.

A census table in the report released last week shows the percentage of full-time workers with employer-based health insurance dropped from 62.1 percent to 55.8 percent during the 22 years the agency has collected data on that issue. Most of that decline occurred in the last two years, during the Great Recession.

The census did not measure the cost of coverage for those who are insured, costs that are rising dramatically.

Johnson noted that as numbers and percentages of the uninsured and the poor rose, the median income of those who are working has remained flat. That median income had dropped 4.7 percent from 2007, when the recession began, until 2009.

The poverty statistics would have been a lot worse, Johnson said, were it not for Social Security providing income for most of the elderly and increases in unemployment benefits. Without the unemployment benefits, specifically, the number of adults who would have fallen into poverty would have risen another 2.3 million, he said. If Social Security were taken away, that number would have gone up by still another 14 million, he noted.

Jeff Bivens, a researcher at the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, said the combination of downward revisions in the Gross Domestic Product, when added to the bad news of the rise in poverty, made congressional action on a second stimulus even more urgent. "This is most troubling, as Recovery Act money is almost spent and will provide no boost to growth going forward, the evidence for more action from policymakers to support the recovery and return the job market to health is now overwhelming."

The National Association for Business Economics, an organization of normally conservative economists, recently released a survey of its membership that showed overwhelming support for job creation. Three-quarters of the members of the group said policymakers should focus on promoting growth and job creation rather than deficit reduction. Seven out of 10 of the economists said promoting economic growth should be the policy priority at the federal level, while only 29 percent said the deficit should take precedence.

John Wojcik contributed to this article.

 

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