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Poverty numbers climb

A homeless woman panhandles on the street on June 20, 2011 in New York City.

Kai Ryssdal: The U.S. Census Bureau released a ton of data today on how families are faring in a still-soft economy. The headline number: more than 15 percent of Americans live below the poverty line paints a gloomy picture of post-recession America. Marketplace's Sarah Gardner reports.


Sarah Gardner: The Census Bureau's Ed Welniak delivered today's news like any good statistician: No emotion, no opinion.

Ed Welniak: The 2010 official poverty rate increased to 15.1 percent, and the number of poor increased to 46.2 million.

Brookings Institute scholar Ron Haskins isn't a statistician.

Ron Haskins: I see no reason for optimism in any of these numbers.

Haskins says the latest recession took a big toll. Poverty's now at its highest rate since 1993, and median income has fallen almost 6.5 percent since the downturn began.

Haskins: When you're living in a country with poverty going up, income coming down and health insurance coverage flat or declining, it's a problem.

But one of the most striking things in today's report is the hidden poverty. More households are "doubled up," now. In many cases, that means adults in their 20s and 30s living with mom and dad. The government figures that 45 percent of those young adults would be in poverty if they weren't under their parents' roof.

Timothy Smeeding is a poverty expert at the University of Wisconsin.

Timothy Smeeding: Unless we find jobs for these adults, we risk a new underclass of younger, undereducated adults, mainly men who are jobless, can't become economically independent, buy houses, reach the middle class and all of that.

Smeeding says today's numbers would have been even worse without government programs like unemployment benefits. But he says the real solution to poverty and dwindling incomes is still jobs.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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