WASHINGTON - The ranks of America's poor remained stuck at a record level last year while household income dropped. Still, the number of people who don't have health insurance declined.
A Census Bureau report released Wednesday provided a mixed picture of the economic well-being of U.S. households for 2011 as the nation enters the final phase of a presidential election campaign in which the economy is the No. 1 issue.
The overall poverty rate stood at 15 percent, statistically unchanged from the 15.1 percent rate in the previous year. Experts had expected a rise in the poverty rate for the fourth straight year, but unemployment benefits and modest job gains helped stave that off, the bureau reported. For last year, the official poverty line was an annual income of $23,021 for a family of four.
This photo taken July 16 shows Claudia Pedroza, 39, and her eight-year-old daughter Karla Osorio at the Jefferson Action Center in Lakewood, Colo. Pedroza moved to the Denver suburbs five years ago with her husband and four children in hopes of a suburban life. But Pedroza’s family struggles to make ends meet and she was waiting with her on July 16, to apply for help with food, toiletries and seek a new frying pan.
While unemployment eased slightly from 2010 to 2011, the gap between rich and poor increased. The median, or midpoint, household income was $50,054, 1.5 percent lower than 2010 and a second straight annual decline.
In a blog post, the White House said the latest figures show that government policies can help the poor, middle class and uninsured, while more work remains to be done.
"While we have made progress digging our way out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, too many families are still struggling and Congress must act on the policies President Obama has put forward to strengthen the middle class and those trying to get into it," the White House post said.
At a fundraising event in Jacksonville, Fla., Obama's GOP rival for the White House, Mitt Romney, said the president "is the candidate that's pushed the middle class into poverty. We're the party of those who want a brighter, prosperous future for themselves and for their kids. We're not the party of the rich. We're the party of the people who want to get rich."
By total numbers, roughly 46.2 million people remained below the poverty line last year, unchanged from 2010. That figure was the highest in the more than half a century that records have been kept. The 15 percent poverty rate was about the same as it was in 1993 and was the highest since 1983.
Broken down by state, New Mexico had the highest share of poor people, at 22.2 percent, according to rough calculations by the Census Bureau.
It was followed by Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia. On the other end of the scale, New Hampshire had the lowest, at 7.6 percent.