Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Huddled Masses

The number of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet with incomes between 100 and 150 percent of poverty level is huge. We know this because the New York Times asked the Census Bureau to run a special tabulation and apply the criteria of its new Supplemental Poverty Measure (see my post about the measure) to determine how many people were near poor under the SPM criteria. The criteria measure disposable income--adding food stamps and other government benefits to income, and subtracting taxes, health insurance, child care, and other costs from income. The Times published the results last week (see Older, Suburban, and Struggling, 'Near Poor' Startle the Census), and the Census Bureau has released a tabulation of the findings (see Special Tabulation of Supplemental Poverty Measure Estimates).

So just how big are the huddled masses? The number of people with incomes between 100 and 150 percent of poverty level jumps from the official 29 million (before benefits are added and costs deducted) to the SPM-adjusted figure of 51 million--a 76 percent increase. Even worse, as the Times reports, adding this number to the SPM estimate of 49 million people below poverty level, means that nearly one in three Americans is either in poverty or only a car breakdown or medical emergency away from being poor.

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