Sign o’ the Times: One in Seven Americans Lives in Poverty

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Now we have that Prince song stuck in our head. Photo: Dorhea Lange/Library of Congress

Ever since we saw the footage last year of thousands of Virginians lining up for free basic health care from Remote Area Medical (RAM), a group initially designed to help struggling communities in the developing world, we've been waiting for the numbers to catch up. (In the middle of the health-care debates, RAM set up mobile hospitals to provide basic services like pulling out decaying teeth or providing used prescription glasses.) Today, the Census Bureau's annual report shows that the ranks of working-age poor grew to the highest numbers seen since the 1960s. One in seven Americans is now living in poverty. The overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million Americans — the highest since 1994. The number of people without health care rose to 16.7 percent, or 50.7 million. Because this data is for the year 2009, and President Obama started office on January 20, 2009, this is clearly all his fault.

Demographers were actually bracing for an even higher poverty rate, between 14.7 percent and 15 percent, especially after record unemployment. Analysts say programs like the federal expansion of unemployment insurance, increase in Social Security payments, and a record number of working mothers helped cushion the blow. University of Maryland professor Douglas Besharov, formerly of the conservative American Enterprise Institute says, "Given all the unemployment we saw, it's the government safety net that's keeping people above the poverty line." What, that doesn't make you feel better?

Census: 1 in 7 Americans lives in poverty [WP]