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Poverty, Income, Insurance Statistics Show the Ravages of the Lesser Depression

46.2 million Americans lived in poverty in 2010, roughly 15.1% of the population, according to numbers released by the US Census Bureau today. That’s nearly one in six Americans. This is the largest number of Americans in poverty in the history that the Census has recorded the data. And the rate of poverty is the highest since 1993.

There were a couple other pieces of big news from the release of Census data. First, real median household income declined in 2010 by 2.3%. The average household now makes $49,445 a year. This is lower than 1997, according to this chart:

I agree with Matt Yglesias that temporary payroll tax cuts or Making Work Pay tax cuts have softened the blow of this decline and loss of purchasing power by the middle class. But we cannot survive with real median income falling, especially when productivity continues to rise and those benefits are simply not being shared with wage earners.

Finally, the data showed an increase in the uninsured. More people had health insurance in 2010 relative to 2009, but with population increases, the uninsured jumped to 49.9 million in 2010 from 49 million. The percentage of the uninsured was unchanged at 16.3%. Government-covered health insurance increased while employer-based coverage decreased, the continuation of a long trend.

Kathleen Sebelius tried to put a positive spin on the numbers by suggesting that the Affordable Care Act was working to broaden coverage in the areas where it has been implemented.

Today, a new report shows that the Affordable Care Act is working. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey released today, there was a significant increase in the number of 18-24 year olds with health insurance in the U.S. over the past year.

The report showed that the percentage of young adults with insurance increased from 70.7% in 2009 to 72.8% in 2010. That translates into 500,000 more young people with insurance. We expect even more will gain coverage in 2011 when the policy is fully phased in.

Young people sometimes think they’re invincible, but it’s important for everyone to have insurance. One car accident, one slip in a shower, or one sudden illness can result in months or even years of health care bills that can bankrupt the average family if that son or daughter is uninsured.

Either that, or they could accept the terms of their deaths to the cheers of the Tea Party.

These numbers are the predictable outcome from decades of policy tilted toward the rich, and a catastrophic recession from which we still haven’t recovered. It’s hard to see how any of these numbers will change in 2011. And that reveals a sick economy, unbalanced and actively working against the average American.

More from WaPo. And a lot more from Arthur Delaney.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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