The number of people in the United States living in poverty increased last year to 39.8 million — the highest percentage of the population in 11 years, the Census Bureau said Thursday.
The number equals 13.2 percent of the country’s population and is 2.5 million more than were living in poverty in 2007, which is defined by the agency as a person making less than $10,991 or a family of four making less than $22,025.
Nearly of quarter of the country’s Hispanic and black populations now are living in poverty — 23.2 percent for Hispanics and 24.7 percent for blacks.
The poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 — 19 percent in 2008 compared with 18 percent in 2007.
The rates are highest in the country’s South and West regions, with 14.3 percent in the South and 13.5 percent in the West.
The poverty levels increased as the country’s median household income decreased for the first time in four years, from $52,163 in 2007 to $50,303 in 2008.
Agency statistician Chuck Nelson said that the numbers reflect the recession that began in December 2007 and that increased poverty and lower incomes are “consistent with recent recessionary periods.”
Mr. Nelson also said it’s too difficult to predict where those numbers will be at the end of the year, considering signs of recovery with continuing high unemployment.
The bureau’s report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008,” also includes numbers on health-care coverage, which President Obama cited Thursday in his effort to reform health care.
The number of people without coverage increased from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008, according to the agency.
Over the same period, the number of people covered by private health insurance decreased from 202 million to 201 million, while the number covered by government health insurance increased from 83 million to 87.4 million. The number covered by employment-based health insurance declined from 177.4 million to 176.3 million.
Mr. Nelson said the agency felt no political pressure in putting out the numbers this year, as health care reform is the biggest issue in national politics.
“For us, this is the most important time of the year every year,” he said.