Today’s Econ 101

New Numbers on Poverty, Income, and Health Care

Today, the federal government released a raft of economic numbers on various topics, including the number of Americans in poverty, income, and the number of people without health insurance.

ThinkProgress’ Travis Waldron breaks down the numbers:

After three consecutive years of increases in American poverty, the number of Americans living on incomes at or below the poverty line remained stable in 2011, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau released today. The poverty rate remainedunchanged at 15 percent, meaning 46.2 million Americans are living at or below the federal poverty line, defined as $23,000 a year for a family of four. The poverty rate remained statistically unchanged across racial groups with the exception of Hispanics, the only group to see a statistically significant decline.

But median household income dropped 1.5 percent and the gap between the wealthiest Americans and those in the middle grew in 2011, according to Census data. As the following chart shows, the share of income grew for the richest Americans but fell for other groups:

The poverty rate had been expected to rise significantly. Shifts in the number of low-income workers moving from part-time jobs to full-time employment may explain the unchanged rate, David S. Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division, said on a conference call.

And as Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans threaten to shred the social safety through draconian budget cuts designed to offset the cost of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, it’s important to remember how many people are kept out of poverty by important government programs:

This chart from Melissa Boteach, the director of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, breaks down how many Americans avoided poverty thanks to certain government programs:

Many of these programs, however, are facing cuts as Congress attempts to reduce the federal budget deficit and national debt. The House Republican budget included massive cuts to SNAP and other food assistance programs; all told, it could have booted millions of people off of food stamps and 280,000 from the school lunch program. Under tax plans put forth by both House and Senate Republicans, meanwhile, 12 million Americans would have lost part or all of the Child Tax Credit, while six million would have lost part or all of the Earned Income Tax Credit, an effective tax hike on millions of families.

Finally, there was some other good news in today’s report. The number of uninsured Americans is dropping:

Thanks to Obamacare, the uninsured rate in the U.S. dropped in 2011 to 15.7 percent from 16.3 percent in 2010, and 1.4 million Americans have health insurance now who did not have coverage a year ago, according to data from the Census Bureau. 2011 was the first year in more than a decade in which the number of people with private health insurance remained steady. “Our main finding is coverage increased between 2010 and 2011,” said David Johnson, chief of the Census’s Chief, Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division.

A key factor that drove down the number of people without insurance — 48.6 million people last year compared to 50 million in 2010 — is a provision in the Affordable Care Act allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26. A study in June estimated that 6.6 million young adults have taken advantage of this regulation.

BOTTOM LINE: The economy still isn’t where it needs to be, but things are not getting worse and a variety of important government programs are helping to keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You May Have Missed

Mitt Romney: Obama sympathized with attackers who murdered American diplomats.

Official Romney campaign talking points blame Obama for the attack in Libya.

Republican foreign policy experts assail Romney as “not presidential,” “an utter disaster,” and “not ready for primetime.”

Hillary Clinton’s moving statement on the attacks.

Mitt Romney drops his 3:00 a.m. phone call.

President Obama: Romney likes to shoot first and aim later.

The media calls Romney’s response to attacks “ham-handed,” irresponsible,” “craven,” and “dumb.”

Bush Homeland Security Chief: No, President Obama doesn’t sympathize with attackers.

A timeline of the attacks in Libya and Egypt.


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