Incomes at Their Worst Since 1996, Poverty At a 52-Year High, Inequality Deepening
FlaglerLive | September 14, 2011
Florida’s poverty rate rose to the highest level in 16 years, with 3 million residents—one in six—living under the poverty line in 2010, the fifth year in a row that the poverty rate has increased significantly in the state, according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday. In 2005, the rate was at 11.1 percent. It was at 16 percent in 2010, and expected to get worse before it gets better as the state continues to be roiled by high unemployment, high foreclosure rates and low-quality job creation.
Almost 4 million people going without health insurance in Florida. Only four states—Nevada, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas—have worse rates of uninsured individuals. Texas is worst, with a quarter of its population uninsured, and 18.4 percent of its population living in poverty, the seventh-worst rate in the nation. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is running for the presidency, boasting of his record in Texas in the past decade.
- 2009: Record 43.6 Million in Poverty; Record 50.7 Million Uninsured; Only Elderly Thrive
- The Full 2010 Report
The rate of the uninsured for Flagler County is significantly worse. For those younger than 65, it was 25 percent in 2007, the last year for which Census figures are available, but also the height of the housing boom in Flagler, when unemployment was near its lowest rate of the decade and the county’s economic wealth at its height.
Household income in Florida also fell to the lowest level since 2005, to $44,243, a 3 percent drop from a year earlier.
The numbers are part of the Census Bureau’s annual income, poverty and health insurance report, which paints a grim picture of the economic consequences of the last decade across the country: while taxes were repeatedly cut during the Bush administration’s eight years, ostensibly to boost the economy, create jobs and reduce government’s role in the economy, and as federal revenue fell to historic lows in relation to the size of the economy, only those in the top tenth of the nation’s income brackets have enjoyed significant gains or avoided losses, while the rest have seen their standards of living erode considerably. (See the full report below.)
The national poverty rate is 15.1 percent, with 46.2 million people living in poverty. That’s the highest number ever recorded by the Census Bureau (the bureau started collecting figures 52 years ago), and the fourth straight increase. The number of poor people in the United States is equivalent to two and a half times the population of Florida. Put another way, the 46 million people living in poverty are equal to the total population of half the nation’s smaller states, by population count.
Median household income in the nation has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years, dropping to $49,445. That’s 7.1 percent lower than it was at its 1999 peak, and equal to where it was, after accounting for inflation, in 1996, half-way through Bill Clinton’s two terms.
Losses affected every income level, but in varying degrees. Those suffering the steepest income losses were the young: those younger than 65 saw their household income drop 2.5 percent. Those 65 and older saw their household income drop by just 1.5 percent. The figures continue the last several years’ trend: while workers have kept seeing their income erode steadily, the elderly have either held steady, seen slight increases or slight drops, and have been protected from wider economic shocks because they’re covered by Medicare, the health insurance program, and receive Social Security checks. In 2010, the number of elderly people living in poverty would have been almost 14 million higher if social security payments were excluded from money income, quintupling the number of elderly people in poverty.
Those suffering the steepest household income losses—9.3 percent—were the 6.2 million households led by 15-to-24 year-olds, followed by the 25 million households led by people 45 to 54 years old, which experienced a drop of 4.3 percent in income.
Inequality is deepening, as the poor are getting poorer, and the rich, while not getting richer in the last year, have at least not gotten poorer. For example in the bottom 10th of the income bracket (the 10th percentile), households had an average income below $11,900. Those households saw their income decline 3.4 percent. The top 10 percent of households had incomes above $138,000. They did not see a significant change in their income. The contrast between rich and poor is much sharper when analyzed over the past 10 years: for those at the bottom of the income brackets, income fell 12.1 percent since 1999. For those at the top, income fell just 1.5 percent.
The number of uninsured Americans is just under 50 million, or 16.3 percent of the population.
There are some caveats to the poverty numbers, which overestimate poverty by some measures and underestimate it by others. The Census Bureau’s figures “compare the official poverty thresholds to money income before taxes, not including the value of noncash benefits” such as food stamps, the report cautions. “The money income measure does not completely capture the economic well-being of individuals and families, and there are many questions about the adequacy of the official poverty thresholds. Families and individuals also derive economic well-being from noncash benefits, such as food and housing subsidies, and their disposable income is determined by both taxes paid and tax credits received.”
For example: if the value of the federal earned income tax credit was included in the calculations, the number of children classified as poor in 2010 would be reduced by 3 million. But if unemployment benefits, which are part of current calculations, were excluded, the number of people living in poverty would have been higher by 3.2 million. That number is set to rise as unemployment benefits run out for millions, and states such as Florida slash the number of weeks an unemployed person may collect jobless benefits.
Also, the poverty thresholds, developed more than 40 years ago, “do not take into account rising standards of living or such issues as child care expenses, other work-related expenses, variations in medical costs across population groups, or geographic differences in the cost of living. Poverty estimates using the new Supplemental Poverty Measure, for which the Census Bureau expects to publish preliminary estimates in October 2011, will address many of these concerns.”