Poverty continues to rise in U.S., now 15.1%

Last Updated 12:57 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON -- The number of people in the U.S. living in poverty in 2010 rose for the fourth year in a row, representing the largest number of Americans in poverty in the 52 years since such estimates have been published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Median household income in the U.S. also declined.

The latest census data highlights the struggling U.S. economy, which has seen unemployment hover at around 9 percent for two years, and which will be a key campaign issue heading into the 2012 election season.

According to a report issued Tuesday, 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009. Data in the Census Bureau covers the first full calendar year following the December 2007-June 2009 recession.

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The nation's official poverty rate increased for the third year in a row - 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. In the last three years, the poverty rate has risen faster than any other three-year period since the early 1980s.

Real median household income in the United States also fell in 2010, to $49,445 (a 2.3 percent drop from 2009).

The number of people without health insurance coverage rose to 16.3 percent, or 49.9 million, from 16.1 percent a year ago. The jump was mostly due to decreases in employe-provided insurance.

Bruce Meyer, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago, told the Associated Press that the numbers may get even worse, pointing to rising demand for food stamps and a "staggeringly high" level of long-term unemployment - those out of work for more than 26 weeks.

Census Bureau report:

Among the other findings:

  • Child poverty rose to 22 percent, from 20.7 percent.
  • Poverty among seniors remained unchanged at 9 percent
  • Poverty levels rose across all racial and ethnic groups except Asians, which remained at 12.1 percent. Poverty among Hispanics increased to 26.6 percent; among blacks it rose to 27.4 percent; among whites it climbed to 9.9 percent.
  • Households in the Midwest, South and West experienced declines in real median income between 2009 and 2010, while median household income in the Northeast was not statistically significant.
  • In 2010, the number of families living in poverty was 9.2 million, up from 8.8 million in 2009. The family poverty rate also increased, from 11.1 percent in 2009 to 11.7 percent.
  • There were also increases in the poverty rate / the number in poverty for both married-couple families (6.2 percent / 3.6 million in 2010, up from 5.8 percent / 3.4 million in 2009), and for female-householder-with-no-husband-present families (31.6 percent / 4.7 million in 2010, up from 29.9 percent / 4.4 million in 2009).
  • Since 2007 - when the '07-'09 recession began - the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points. Although the 2010 rate is 7.3 percentage points lower than in 1959 when the rate was first estimated, it is its highest since 1993.
  • The change in income inequality between 2009 and 2010 was not statistically significant, although shares of aggregate household income by quintiles showed a slight shift to increased inequality.
  • Women's earnings for full-time, year-round work in 2010 were 77 percent that for men - not statistically different from the 2009 ratio.

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  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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