The Lookout

Record number of Americans living in poverty

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

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Mike White works as a volunteer for Cleveland Catholic Charities. AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Last year, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty--the highest total since record keeping began more than half a century ago, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

Thanks to an unemployment rate that averaged 9.6 percent, and anemic economic growth, the share of Americans who lived below the official poverty line rose to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. That marks the fourth straight year that the rate has climbed.

The figure for children was even higher -- 22 percent.

The Census Bureau defines as poor any individual person living on an income of less than $11,139, and any family living on an income of less than $22,314.

The percentage of people living below the poverty line is now approaching levels not seen since President Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1965. And the total would have been higher still--by around 3.2 million people--were it not for the existence of unemployment benefits, according to an estimate by the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for a stronger unemployment insurance system.

In addition, the Census Bureau reported that median household income, adjusted for inflation, fell 2.3 percent last year, to $49,445. That's lower than it was in 1997, according to New York Times economics correspondent David Leonhardt--a finding he calls "chilling."

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