WASHINGTON -- The country’s poverty rate dropped by an insignificant tick -- from 15.1 percent to 15 percent -- but the number of impoverished Americans remained at record highs, according to figures released by the US Census Bureau Wednesday morning.
“After three consecutive years of increases, neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2010 estimates,” the bureau said.
The bureau said 46.2 million live in poverty. To meet the threshold, a family of four would have made less than $23,021 in pre-tax income, not including such government noncash benefits as food stamps. The threshold the previous year was $22,350 for a family of four in the continental United States.
“The fact there wasn’t a significant increase is good news. However, over the past decade we’ve seen a long term trend of increasing poverty in America,” said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. “The number of people in poverty, including the number of children -- one in five children in American live in poverty -- is still frighteningly high.”
Berger called for increased support for safety net programs such as food stamps and increasing the minimum wage.
President Obama had proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour, but has since backed off because he could not gain the support of Congress.
Much of the focus on the presidential campaign has been on the middle class, although there has been wide discussion about the budget plan advocated by Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president.
Poverty advocates have expressed concern that this plan to slash $5.3 trillion in government spending over 10 years would reduce programs for the poor, including possibly cutting the food stamp program by $133.5 billion.
The relatively steady poverty numbers were perhaps positive news amid the continuing struggles faced by many Americans in the sluggish economy.
However, real median household income declined 1.5 percent to $50,054 annually. The survey also found that the number of people without health insurance declined from 50 million in 2010 to 48.6 million last year, a shift from 16.3 percent of the US population to 15.7 percent.
Families USA, a health care advocacy group, hailed the statistic as proof that President Obama’s health care law was beginning to make a difference.
“The new Census Bureau report about uninsured Americans provides clear and unmistakable evidence of the current benefits of ObamaCare and the need to move forward with the full implementation of the law in 2014,” said Ron Pollack, the group’s executive director. He partly credited provisions that allow uninsured adult children up to age 26 to be covered under a parent’s health plan.