U.S. poverty rate 15 percent; record numbers persist

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“The drop in the unemployment rate has been due in significant part to workers leaving the labor force, because they are discouraged, back in school, taking care of family or other reasons,” Mr. Meyer said.

The official poverty level is based on a government calculation that includes only income before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership.

As a result, the official poverty rate takes into account the effects of some stimulus programs passed in 2009, such as unemployment benefits, as well as jobs that were created or saved by government spending. It does not factor in noncash government aid such as tax credits and food stamps.

Mr. Johnson attributed the better-than-expected poverty numbers to increases in full-time workers over the past year. He also estimated that expanded unemployment benefits helped keep 1.6 million working-age people out of poverty.

Social Security, a federal support program for older Americans, also lifted roughly 14.5 million seniors above the poverty line. Without those cash payments, the number of people ages 65 and older living in poverty would have increased five-fold, he said.

The share of Americans without health coverage fell from 16.3 percent to 15.7 percent, or 48.6 million people. It was the biggest decline in the number of uninsured since 1999, boosted in part by increased coverage for young adults under the new health care law, which allows them to be covered under their parents’ health insurance until age 26.

Congress passed the health overhaul in 2010 to address the rising numbers of uninsured people. During this election year, the law has come under increasing criticism from Republicans, including Mr. Romney, who has pledged to push a repeal if he is elected. The main provisions of the health care law will not take effect until 2014.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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