Census report: More poverty with a silver lining

Data released today suggests the economy may have bottomed out, while inequality has risen again

Published September 20, 2012 4:05PM (EDT)

The U.S. Census Bureau released its yearly American Community Survey Thursday -- a vast swath of demographic data on education levels, income and housing situations, and more. The information, based on a sample of the population in 2011, carries grim news on poverty but hope for the future of the economy, according to analysts.

The number of poor Americans increased in 2011 (from 15.3 percent in 2010 to 15.9 percent). "That means that 48.4 million Americans had an income below the poverty line," noted NPR's news blog.

However, data showed that median household income dropped in fewer states in 2011 than in 2010 (18 compared to 35 states). Nevada saw the greatest drop in median household income (a 6 percent downturn), while Vermont saw a 4 percent rise. However, income inequality is on the rise according to the census data: Nine states saw income inequality rise in 2010, compared to rises in 20 states last year. New Yorkers and Californians might not be surprised to find their states in the top five for unequal income distribution.

Ever rosy, economists have found reason for optimism in the statistics. Although the poverty rate increased for the fourth consecutive year, the percentage point increase was comparatively smaller in 2011. The suggestion is that the economy has bottomed out, with more young people leaving their parents' homes to seek jobs or go to college. "There is some light at the end of the tunnel," William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution, told the Associated Press. A light, of course, barely visible to the thousands more Americans who fell under the poverty line last year.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Census Household Income Income Inequality Nevada New York Poverty