How low can we go?

How low can we go?

September 18th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Initial findings from the Census Bureau's 2010 decennial report on poverty levels in America last week confirmed the broad suffering of Americans from the Great Recession that has roiled the country since 2008, spawning the highest level of poverty and the sharpest decline in income in more than 50 years. Closer analyses since the first report chart the unevenness of that hardship.

Incomes plunged less in the Northeast (3.1 percent) than in the rest of the country. Income decline in the South, for example, was 6.3 percent. But it was worst in the Midwest (8.4 percent) and in the West (6.7 percent).

Incomes dropped less for whites (5.4 percent), than for blacks (10.1 percent). The loss for Asians (7.4 percent) and Hispanics (7.2 percent) was in-between those extremes.

But those figures alone are misleading. Median income for Asian households ($64,308 after the decline from 2007 figures) continues to lead the four groups. For whites, median income fell to $54,620 in 2010; for Hispanics, to $37,759; and for blacks, to $32,068. It is the latter figure that confirms that incomes for black families not only fell by a higher percentage, but from a significantly lower level for start with, and to a far lower number in 2010. That disparity reflects deep suffering among black families, and reveals a need for help concentrated most for aid to them.

Among the other disparities, median household incomes for young people 15 to 24 sharply (-15.3 percent, to $28,322) compared to households of people 35 to 44 (-5.6 percent, to $61,644); people 45 to 54 (-9.2 percent, to $62,485); and people 55 to 64 (-6.2 percent, to $56,575).

The median household income for people 65 and older, conversely, rose by 5.5 percent in that period. But that figure is also misleading: their median household income rose from a low of $29,764 in 2007 to $31,408 in 2010, a gains most likely reflecting the growing number of older workers who have been forced to defer retirement as the value of their typically modest retirement savings plummeted.

Perhaps the most disturbing statistics flow from a breakdown of the number of 46.2 million now found to be trapped below the official poverty level. The number of those in deep poverty, as classified by an income of less than half of the official poverty level, now stands at 20.5 million, or 44.3 percent, the highest level in 36 years. Another indicator: More than 45 million people now receive food stamps, a 64 percent increase since 2008.

Times haven't been as bad for such large numbers of Americans since the Great Depression. Such disturbing trends of income loss and growing poverty mock the opposition in Washington to short-term stimulus programs and greater aid to Americans trapped by unemployment, poverty and lack of health care.