Census Data Show Effectiveness of Low-Income Programs; But Racial Disparities, Inequality Persist

The percentage of Americans living in poverty fell slightly from 15.1 to 15 percent from 2010 to 2011, while the percentage lacking health insurance dropped from 16.3 percent to 15.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest data. The report also showed incomes rising for the top 5 percent of households, but falling for those in the middle.

The bureau counted 46.2 million people living in poverty in 2011. The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2011 was $23,021 in annual income.

The data also show the poverty rates for Blacks, Hispanics and Asians remaining disproportionately higher than the rate for non-Hispanic Whites (table).


Population (%) in 2011

Poverty Rate (%)

Race and Origin




White, not Hispanic












Hispanic (any race)




Total Population




Source: U.S Census Bureau: People in Poverty by Selected Characteristics: 2010 and 2011

Anti-poverty advocates noted that today’s announcement showed that federal programs, such as emergency unemployment benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Earned Income Tax Credit,(EITC) can protect people from falling into poverty. However, all three of these programs, and more, are at risk of being gutted by House of Representative budget proposals.

In a joint statement on the latest poverty numbers, leaders of Half in Ten, a national campaign seeking to promote policies aimed at cutting poverty in half in 10 years, voiced concerns about rising inequality and the fact that the benefits of economic growth are not being as widely shared.

“When poverty is holding steady, and incomes are falling even as the economy is recovering, it is a sign that economic gains are concentrating at the top, leaving working families behind,” said Melissa Boteach, director of the Half in Ten Campaign. “This data should be a wake-up call to policymakers that rather than budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, we need a focus on good jobs that bring more families into the middle class.”

Calling economic security the “civil rights issue of our time,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said that “[b]y making policy choices that bring millions of our neighbors off the economic margins and ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share, we can grow our economy and cut poverty as we reduce our long-term deficits.”