According to U.S. Census Bureau data released yesterday, the number of Americans living in poverty and without health insurance increased in 2008.
The number of uninsured rose from 45.7 million to 46.3 million and the official poverty rate rose from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent last year – the highest rate since 1997. Nearly 40 million Americans lived below the official poverty threshold in 2008.
In addition, poverty and uninsured rates increased more drastically in many minority communities than they did among non-Hispanic whites.
Anti-poverty advocates argue that a main problem with the current poverty calculation is that it uses data from the 1950s, such as cost of food and pre-tax income, which don’t accurately reflect the economic realities faced by millions of Americans. Congress has introduced legislation that will update the poverty measure to more accurately track poverty in America.
Groups that address human needs say though the poverty numbers are grim, they are likely much worse today, since the economy has worsened significantly since the time period represented by the census data. Many advocates say that the new data points to an urgent need to invest funds in programs and states that are struggling to help low-income and poor families.
“If we invest in health care, education, and rebuilding communities, we will create jobs and renew our economy. Failure to act is a moral wrong, since it causes preventable harm to vulnerable people. Inaction is a practical wrong as well, because consigning tens of millions to poverty, with no protections against sickness and debt, drags our economy down and further delays our recovery,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs.