It's more of the same from 2012 poverty report

By Elizabeth Lefebvre| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog Social Justice

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released its annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States for 2012, and for the most part, things look about the same as they did in 2011, which is to say, things could be a lot better. Though things technically didn't get worse, suggesting that the recession could be starting to level off, this doesn’t mean that things have turned around or are on the upswing. Incomes still haven’t improved, and there’s roughly the same number of people living in poverty as there were in 2011.

Some of the highlights from the report include:

  • Median household income in the United States in 2012 was $51,017, about the same as 2011's total of $51,100.
  • The official poverty rate was 15.0 percent, meaning that 46.5 million people are living at or below the poverty line (which for a family of four is equivalent to $23,492).
  • 21.8 percent of children under 18 (16.1 million) are living in poverty.
  • The number of people with health insurance actually increased to 263.2 million from 260.2 million in 2011, as did the percentage of people (84.6 percent).

Also yesterday, the New York Times published a story profiling people who often work more than one job, but still can’t afford housing and live in shelters (debunking once again the myth that if people are homeless, they should “just get a job”). Said one source in the story, a mother of a young child who works two jobs as a security guard: “I feel stuck. You try, you try, and you try, and you’re getting nowhere. I’m still in the shelter.”

During the recession, several congressional representatives have attempted the “food stamp challenge,” where they try to live on the means allotted for someone using the government's supplemental nutrition assistance program. Most recently, the CEO of Panera Bread, Ron Shaich, is trying to eat on $4.50 per day, and (surprise!) has found that it isn’t easy—and that he’s unable to eat at his own food stores. “I drive by these restaurants I go to all the time and I can’t go in. I can’t even go into a Panera,” he says. "The only veggies I’ve had are the canned tomatoes in my soup. It’s very hard to eat well. Money really provides choices.”

If the income and poverty numbers have leveled off in 2012, we can only hope that 2013's data starts to show some sort of upward growth. But as we continue to make complicated economic policy decisions, it will be crucial to consider how those decisions will affect not only next year's data, but more importantly, how they will affect the reality of day-to-day life for real people.