WASHINGTON— More than 46 million people were living in poverty in the United States last year as the lingering effects of the financial crisis boosted unemployment. Government experts say family incomes fell, but more people were covered by health insurance.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Wednesday, about about 15 percent of people in the United States were living in poverty in 2011. The Census Bureau defines "poverty" as having an income below $23,021 a year for a family of four. Median U.S. incomes declined 1.5 percent last year to $50,054.
Washington-based Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins blames persistent poverty on unemployment that rose during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, and remains stubbornly high.
"It sure is taking a long time for the jobs to come back," said Haskins.
Even people like Kate, who has a job, but did not want her last name used, face difficult financial problems.
"I don't know what we are going to do in the future. I don't know, we live, you know, it's a day-by-day situation," she said.
Kate, her husband and three children live near Washington, D.C. She is a waitress. Her husband was a restaurant manager until an injury left him with broken bones and a concussion. Kate said he will be out of work for perhaps a year and workers compensation - a kind of insurance that helps people injured on the job - pays only 60 percent of what he made at work.
"When he got injured, we started struggling and struggling," she said.
Kate gets health insurance through her employer, but has to pay for it. Tens of millions of Americans receive health insurance through their work. The share of the cost paid by employers varies widely.
Wednesday's report shows that the number of people not covered by any kind of health insurance declined slightly last year to 49 million. Government-run plans covered more people, and a new law allows families to use a parent's health insurance to cover children until they are 26 years old.
Rising health care costs in recent years have made health insurance a major issue when workers negotiate compensation with companies.
Kate says her situation would go from difficult to desperate without health insurance. She also hopes her husband can quickly regain his health and bring home a paycheck.