Thursday, September 16, 2010

2009 US poverty level at 14.3 percent

The US Census Bureau has now officially released the poverty statistics for 2009. The official percentage of American in poverty in 2009 is 14.3 percent, which translates to 43.6 million people. Some had expected the rate to be as high as 15 percent. This makes it the fourth straight year that the US poverty level has increased.

From the Wall Street Journal, writer Ruth Mantell looks at the economic factors that lends to more poor Americans.

Economists have been concerned about the persistently high unemployment rate, which rose 3.5 percentage points to 9.3% in 2009 from 5.8% in 2008, the largest increase since the Labor Department started keeping comparable average annual data in 1947.

"The deterioration in the labor market from 2008 to 2009 was the worst we've ever seen," said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. "When you see a big deterioration in the labor market, poverty rises. The vast majority of people in this country depend on the labor market for their income."

The number of employed civilians fell to about 140 million in 2009 from 145 million in 2008, and the number of unemployed rose to 14 million from nine million, according to the Labor Department.

"Anyone who has exposure to the labor market will be directly impacted," Ms. Shierholz said. "The poverty and income numbers depend on the labor market."

Many households continued to struggle despite economic growth in the second half of last year, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor economist.

"Most of that growth in GDP [gross domestic product] has not been trickling down to the typical household," Mr. Katz said. "GDP largely showed up in profits but didn't show up in earnings of workers. Productivity went up, but those benefits didn't translate into rapidly growing wages."

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