'Recovery' Year Saw Incomes Fall, Poverty Rise

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The hangover from the recession that ended in 2009 was the worst in recent memory, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, with median household income falling and the poverty rate rising more in 2010 than in any post-recession year since 1970.

The Bureau’s annual report on income and poverty found that median household income fell 2.3 percent between 2009 and 2010 to $49,455. Asian and Latino families saw no statistically significant change in their income, but whites (lower by 1.7 percent) and blacks (off by 3.2 percent) did. The farther you look back, the worst today’s economy appears: Household income in 2010 was 6.4 percent lower than at the start of the recession in 2007 and 7.1 percent lower than in 1999.

The national poverty rate jumped from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent—the highest level since 1993—rising for every ethnic group but Asians. The child poverty rate ticked up from 20.7 percent to 22 percent.

The Bureau compared the 2009-2010 post-recession year to the first year after six previous recessions (March 2001 to November 2001, July 1990 to March 1991, July 1981 to November 1982, January 1980 to July 1980, November 1973 to March 1975 and December 1969 to November 1970). The past year saw the largest decrease in median income and the highest uptick in the poverty rate of any of those post-recession years.

Beyond the headline numbers, the Bureau provided some statistics that shed light on the nuances of the economy’s effects on American families:

  • Some 21.8 million households are doubling-up with others to save money, an increase of 2 million over the 2007 number.

  • Nearly a third of the population—31.6 percent—had at least one two-month spell of poverty at some point between 2004 and 2007.

  • “Chronic poverty was relatively uncommon, with 2.2 percent of the population living in poverty all 48 months from 2004 to 2007.”

    The poverty rate in New York state climbed to 16 percent, from 14.5 percent in 2007. New York City-specific numbers were not available.

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