One of the first things the U.S. Constitution mandates is a national census. Article I, Section 2 states that an
”…enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
There was some other language included back in 1789 about who was and was not considered a citizen to be counted and we got rid of all that with the 14th Amendment.
But the Census Bureau does a whole lot more than count noses every ten years. In between, they issue all sorts of useful reports on a variety of national statistics. This week, we got the annual Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 [pdf] report.
The overall bottom line is this: Income isn’t doing well for most Americans, poverty is holding steady and there is some progress with health insurance coverage. Some details.
Median household income, $50,054 in 2011, declined 1.5 percent from 2010. It was the second consecutive annual decline. That is now 8.1 percent lower than in 2007, when the recession began late that year.
Women are still earning only 77 percent of what men do. Real median earnings of both men and women who worked full time, year-round declined by 2.5 percent between 2010 and 2011.
The income gap between the richest and poorest is now the largest it has ever been: based on the Gini index, income inequality increased by 1.6 percent between 2010 and 2011…The Gini index was 0.477 in 2011. (The Gini index is a measure of household income inequality; zero represents perfect income equality and 1 perfect inequality.)
In 2011, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.8 percent and 9.5 million, respectively, both not statistically different from the 2010 estimates. (The poverty line is currently at $11,702 for a single person under age 65 and $23,201 for a family of four.)
In 2011, 13.7 percent of people 18 to 64 (26.5 million) were in poverty compared with 8.7 percent of people 65 and older (3.6 million) and 21.9 percent of children under 18 (16.1 million).
The biggest reasons elders – 65 and older – show a lower percentage of poverty than other age groups is directly attributable to Social Security and to Medicare which we have discussed here in the past.
HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE
In 2011, the percentage of people without health insurance decreased to 15.7 percent from 16.3 percent in 2010. The number of uninsured people decreased to 48.6 million from 50 million.
The improvement shows especially among young adults who, due to a provision of the Affordable Care Act, can now be covered under their parents’ policies until age 26.
Of course, the entire report is much more complex than these headlines, breaks down the statistics into a much greater number of categories and is stuffed with charts and graphs. For those of you like that stuff, it’s worth a read.
Coincidentally, yesterday the Pew Research Center released a new study [pdf] showing that one third of Americans now identify themselves as lower-middle or lower class compared to 25 percent four years ago.
During an election year in which economics in general and Republican zeal to cut anti-poverty programs are playing a large role, Pew’s chart of which ideologies have suffered greater falls into the lower classes over the past four years is useful:
All respondents in the survey self-identified their positions on the economic scale. From the Pew report:
”About eight-in-ten people in the lower class (84%) cut back their household spending, compared with 62% of the middle class and 41% of the lower class.
“Six-in-ten lower-class adults (64%) had trouble paying their bills, more than twice the rate of the middle class (29%) or the upper class (13%). Fully 45% had difficulty paying for medical care for themselves or their families.
“Just two-in-ten (18%) middle-class adults and one-in-ten upper-class adults (11%) faced a similar problem.”
As regards this week’s Census Bureau report, Travis Waldron at Thinkprogress makes these important points:
”The data also noted that government benefits played a significant role in keeping millions of Americans — particularly women, children, and the elderly — out of poverty. Social Security alone kept roughly 21.4 million people out poverty, and unemployment benefits helped an additional 2.3 million stave off poverty last year alone.
“The Census Bureau estimates its poverty rate based on cash income and assistance, but many government programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and certain tax credits aimed at combating poverty, aren’t included in its income estimates.
“Including SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, in the Census data would lift another 3.9 million Americans out of poverty, and including the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-income taxpayers would bring 5.7 million people above the poverty line.
“Other tax credits aimed at low-income working families, like the Child Tax Credit, would keep millions more out of poverty if they were included.”
These are, of course, exactly the programs the Republican candidates want to cut.
There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today. New stories will resume next Monday, 17 September.