Many Americans struggle in poverty, according to new Census data

Clark Biegler
Jan 09, 2014

new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that many Americans have lived in poverty at some point.

From 2009 to 2011, almost one-third of Americans lived in poverty for at least two consecutive months. This is an increase from the pre-recession rate of 27.1 percent in 2005-2007.

People are also living in poverty longer. The median length of time spent in poverty was 6.6 months during 2009-2011, an increase of almost a month from the 2005-2007 rate. However, while the time spent in poverty increased, 12.6 million people who were living in poverty in 2009 were out of poverty in 2011.

The report also shows poverty was more prevalent in some communities of color. From 2009 to 2011, one-quarter of non-Hispanic white Americans lived in poverty for at least two consecutive months, but nearly half of Hispanic Americans and 45.3 percent of Black Americans lived in poverty. They were also more likely remain in poverty throughout the 2009-2011 period.

The report uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which gives us information on the number of months spent in poverty, rather than the yearly rate that we get from the American Community Survey.

The new Census report only includes national data. In Minnesota, poverty is lower than the national figures, but we see the same problem of economic well-being not reaching into communities of color. While Minnesota’s overall poverty rate was 11.4 percent in 2012, 37.8 percent of Black Minnesotans and 31.9 percent of American Indian Minnesotans lived in poverty.

The good news is that public policies can make a difference in reducing poverty. Federal policymakers should extend Emergency Unemployment Insurance and protect basic nutrition assistance through SNAP from federal cuts. On the state level, policymakers can improve the economic security of Minnesotans in the upcoming 2014 Legislative Session by strengthening the Working Family Credit and continuing to improve access to affordable health care.

-Clark Biegler