Census Bureau: Poverty rate unchanged, health care coverage improves, income drops

WASHINGTON — The national poverty rate stayed unchanged last year at 15 percent — one of every seven people – but the number of those lacking health insurance coverage declined for the first time in years, the Census Bureau reported.

The annual data also highlighted the decline in family incomes not just since the start of the great recession, but in the years before that. From 2000 through 2011, through both the recessions under former GOP President George W. Bush and the intervening weak recovery, median family income declined by 12.4 percent, according to Economic Policy Institute calculations from the census data.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was not surprised by the Census Bureau’s findings, which back up the federation’s constant emphasis on the drastic impact the recession – also known as the Bush Crash – has had on workers and families.

Trumka also said the budget schemes of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would undo what little improvement there was in the numbers, namely the gain in health insurance coverage.

“Yet more chilling economic data from the Census Bureau further demonstrates that a generation-long experiment with right-wing economic theories has failed America,” Trumka said. “A generation after Reagan and more than a decade after the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest among us, the middle class is less and less secure.

“Median family household income fell again last year. The share of income going to middle and lower middle income households continued its fall, while the share of income going to households in the top five percent continued to rise. The top 20 percent now get a record high 51.1 percent of America’s income.

“Instead of coddling the richest households, America needs to return to the principles of prosperity economics that historically enabled economic security for all and a growing middle class. But Romney and Ryan seek to double down on a set of policies that clearly tilt income growth to the top, while hollowing out the middle. And, as the Ryan budget makes clear, the only way to pay for those tax cuts for millionaires is for the government to turn its back on the middle class.

“In addition, the share of Americans without health insurance coverage, which rose dramatically during the lead-up to the great recession, reaching 16.1 percent in 2009, declined to 15.7 percent not covered, due to the higher enrollments in Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. The two are “programs that the Romney-Ryan budget targets for immediate and draconian cuts.”

Photo: CBTU at a St. Louis Occupy rally. Tony Pecinovsky/PW


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.