Census Makes It Official: U.S. Poverty Rate Rose in 2010


By Rachel Leven, Staff Editor

Census.gov might offer some fun features and eye-popping graphics, but the news isn’t all that pretty. A new report (pdf) based on data from the 2010 Census confirms what many had already known: poverty is on the rise.

Despite the official end of the recession in 2009, the U.S. poverty rate grew steadily from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2009, reaching a formidable 15.3% in 2010. In Washington, D.C., itself, one in ten people were living on incomes of less than 50% of the poverty threshold, while the wider Washington metro area (Washington-Arlington-Alexandria) had the lowest poverty rate in the nation (8.4%), indicative of the growing divide between urban and suburban wealth. Data on Durham and Greensboro indicate that North Carolina has two of the top ten highest poverty rates for metro areas. (See Table 2 in Census report for complete list). At 18.9%, the Durham-Chapel Hill area has the ninth-highest poverty rate in America.

In a Reuters article published last Thursday, Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at the Brookings Institution, noted that areas reliant on manufacturing were hit twice to the gut between 2000 and 2010, as many of these areas were still in the process of recovering from the economic downturn of 2001 when they were hit again by recession in 2008. The lesson is clear: it is going to take more than jobs to get us out of this mess. They have to be the right jobs in the right place at the right wage. And that’s a hard, if not impossible, thing to get right. We have slid deep into the valley. The climb out is going to be long and it’s going to hurt. No policy choice is going to solve the problem right away, and few, if any, are going to solve it completely. In the meantime, poverty will continue to put stress on families and increase national anxiety. I have to wonder if we, as communities and as a country, are ready to handle the reality of these numbers.


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