Today the U.S. Census Bureau updated its Current Population Survey (CPS) dataset with new information on poverty, income, and health insurance. As was widely expected, there’s been a large jump in the number of Americans living in poverty. The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families has done some rapid-response number crunching since the dataset was released this morning, and has already issued a press release. Here are some of the highlights:
• The national poverty rate jumped from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% last year, the highest national poverty rate since 1994. The child poverty rate rose from 19.0% to 20.7%.
• The overall poverty level in Wisconsin in 2008-09 was 10.3%, which does not represent a statistically significant change from the 10.6% rate recorded in 2006 07. (For state-level analysis of CPS data, two-year averages are used to increase reliability, but the averaging may conceal state-level growth in poverty.)
• Median household income in the state in 2008-09 was $51,122, a decrease of $2,896 from 2006-07 and down $6,351 from 1999-2000.
Key public benefit programs and expansions to them made under the Recovery Act enacted in 2009 prevented Wisconsin’s poverty rate from growing. For example, unemployment benefits, which were increased and extended by the Recovery Act, kept 3.3 million individuals out of poverty nationwide in 2009, according to analysis of the Census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
But the poverty numbers do not take into account some of the other forms of vitally important aid for struggling families that were included in the Recovery Act. The Census Bureau does not count tax credits or non-cash assistance when determining whether a family falls below the poverty line. This means that the poverty rate in the U.S., while still quite high, might not have risen as much as the Census numbers show.
Some benefits in the Recovery Act have helped mitigate the effects of poverty without actually decreasing the number of people living in poverty as defined by the Census Bureau. This mitigating effect, though, may be short-lived. Several tax credits and benefits for low- and middle-income families are set to expire as Recovery Act funding draws to a close. If these benefits – such as improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit – are allowed to lapse at the end of the year, struggling families will have a harder time making ends meet.