US poverty hits 49m high

Published: Wednesday | November 9, 2011 Comments 0

The ranks of America's poor are greater than previously known, reaching a new level of 49.1 million, or 16 per cent, due to rising medical costs and other expenses that make it harder for people to stay afloat, according to new census estimates.

The numbers released Monday are part of a first-ever supplemental poverty measure aimed at providing a fuller picture of poverty.

It is considered experimental and does not replace the Census Bureau's official poverty formula, which continues to determine eligibility and distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid for the poor.

Based on the revised formula, the number of poor people exceeds the record 46.2 million, or 15.1 per cent, that was officially reported in September.

Broken down by groups, Americans 65 or older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised poverty formula - nearly doubling to 15.9 per cent, or 1 in 6 - because of medical expenses that are not accounted for in the official rate. Those include rising Medicare premiums, deductibles and expenses for prescription drugs.

Working-age adults ages 18-64 also saw increases in poverty, from 13.7 per cent to 15.2 per cent, due mostly to commuting and child care costs.

For the first time, the share of Hispanics living in poverty surpassed that of African-Americans, 28.2 per cent to 25.4 per cent. That is due to an increase in the poverty rate for Hispanics under the new measure because of lower participation of immigrants and non-English speakers in government aid programs such as housing and food stamps.

Due to new adjustments for geographical variations in costs of living, people residing in the suburbs, the Northeast and West were the regions mostly likely to have poor people - nearly 1 in 5 in the West.

The poverty rate for children declined, from 22 per cent to 18.2 per cent.

On Monday, the Census Bureau said its new measure remained a "work in progress," with additional refinements needed to better determine commuting and housing costs.

The bureau also said it needed to collect additional data before it can publish reliable supplemental numbers on poverty broken down by state.

- AP


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