Poverty rates down, but still higher than at recession’s depths

September 16, 2014
Reid Wilson

The nation’s poverty rate dropped over the last year for the first time since 2006, according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday. But the number of Americans living at or below the poverty line remains at record levels, and in most states the poverty rate remains higher than it was during the depths of the recession.

The poverty rate today is lower than it was in 2008 and 2009 in just 13 states, the Census Bureau reported. Every other state showed an increase in the percentage of citizens living in poverty.

Here’s our colleague Carol Morello on the new numbers:

One in five children in the country are living in poverty, the census said. The 20 percent poverty rate for children represented a drop of two percentage points from 2012.

Census economists said median household income in the U.S. last year was just under $52,000, roughly where it was in 2012 when the figures are adjusted for inflation. That figure is 8 percent lower than it was in 2007, the last full year of pre-recession economic wellbeing, and 11 percent below was it was in 2000.

Overall, the Census Bureau said, about 2.8 million more people had full-time, year-round jobs in 2013. Since 2010, the census has detected a gradual shift from part-time to full-time jobs, but the trend seemed to accelerate last year, economists said.

The poverty rate is more than 1 percentage point lower than at the depths of the recession in Colorado, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota, the Census Bureau found. But the rate was at least three points higher than it was in Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

Mississippi has the highest poverty rate, at 22.5 percent, trailed closely by New Mexico, D.C., Arizona and Kentucky, all of which have rates above 20 percent. Utah and Vermont have the lowest poverty rates, clocking in under 9 percent.

“Today’s Census report reminds us that, despite four years of economic recovery in the U.S., far too many Americans are still living in poverty. This is particularly true in my home state of Mississippi, where poverty increased from last year and thousands of people lack health insurance,” said Reilly Morse, president of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Talk of economic recovery masks the reality that many Mississippi families — along with working families in other states — continue to struggle to find work, pay bills and build economic security.”