What the 2010 Census Tells Us About Poverty in the U.S.

The 2010 Census reveals which Americans were hurt the most by the recession.

by Jennie Wood
2010 U.S. Census

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The 2010 Census results showed how severely Americans have been hurt by the recession. Each region of the country was affected, as well as every age group except for people 65 and older. Young families, defined as under the age of 30, were the hardest hit.

Young Families Struggled

In 2010, more than one third of young families with children were living in poverty, according to Census data. The percentage of those families in poverty in 2010 was 37 percent, surpassing the previous high of 36 percent in 1993. In 2000, the rate hovered around 25 percent. In contrast, households headed by people 65 and older saw their incomes increase 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2010. Every other age group reported a decrease in household. For example, the income of people in the 15 to 24 age group fell 15.3 percent. Since most older Americans receive their income from investments and pensions, the unemployment crisis affected them less.

Household income decreased in every region of the U.S. from 2007 to 2010. The Midwest suffered the biggest blow with an 8.4 percent decrease, followed by the West with 6.7 percent, and the South at 6.3 percent. The Northeast suffered the least with a 3.1 percent decrease. The Midwest and the West were hurt by lagging manufacturing and construction. The West was also affected by the collapsed housing market, especially in Nevada and Arizona. One statistic of note was that the suburbs experienced a spike in poverty. In 2010, 11.8 percent of suburbanites lived in poverty in 2010, up from just eight percent in 2001. Poverty rates in cities increased as well, but less sharply.

Minorities Hit the Hardest

In terms of race, minorities were the hardest hit. African-Americans had the highest poverty rate, increasing from 25 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2010. In the same time period, Hispanics experienced an increase in poverty from 25 to 26 percent. Asians saw no increase, holding at 12.1 percent. In 2010, 9.9 percent of whites lived in poverty, up from 9.4 percent in 2009.

The Census data did not include noncash assistance such as the earned-income tax credit or food stamps. Therefore, economists have said that the results could be overstating poverty numbers in certain groups, but the data also didn't include the cost of housing or medical care, which eat away at household income. The data did show that the number of uninsured Americans increased by 900,000 to 49.9 million. Employer-based coverage decreased from 65 percent in 2000 to around 55 percent in 2010. Another alarming piece of data showed that more than 40 percent of households led by single mothers were living in poverty. Poverty was defined as having a yearly household income of $17,568 for a family of three.

No End in Sight

Economists have predicted that the numbers are not likely to improve in 2011. The unemployment rate still hovers around 9 percent and economists agree that joblessness is the main reason more Americans are living in poverty. A recent Brookings Institution report estimates that the recession will push almost 10 million Americans into poverty by 2015.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


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In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

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