Census Bureau count finds poverty and median income stay the same

Poverty's Persistence
Poverty's Persistence

After seven years of recession, the nation’s poverty rate seems to have stabilized, even as the trend indicates a continued increase for Louisiana, according to statistics released Tuesday by U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition to establishing the national poverty rate at 15 percent in 2012, statistically the same in 2011, the federal analysis found that nationally the ratio of people without health insurance across the nation dropped slightly from 15.7 to 15.4 percent. But the percentage of uninsured Louisiana residents appears to have increased to about 19.7, the fifth highest in the nation.

“The nation is staying flat and Louisiana is getting poorer,” said Jan Moller, executive director of Louisiana Budget Project. The Baton Rouge-based research and advocacy group studies the impact of fiscal policies on low- and moderate-income families.

Moller cautioned that while the national numbers released by the Census Bureau, based in Suitland, Md., are reliable, the Current Population Survey does not interview enough people to make definitive statements about local situations.

But the report does give clear indicators of trends, Moller said.

Troy Blanchard, an LSU professor of sociology, said another Census Bureau report, scheduled for release Thursday, will give a more-detailed look at Louisiana and other states. But the Census Population Survey does give a sense of the way things are going.

“That’s what I’ve been telling my classes. We’ll know better later this week,” Blanchard said. “But, it (Louisiana’s poverty rate) doesn’t look like it’s going to drop. It’s already high.”

The Census Bureau recommends using “two-year average survey data” to project trends. The data shows a 3.2 percent increase — more than the “confidence interval” that measures the possibility of error — in poverty rates between 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 for Louisiana. The poverty rate was 17.9 percent during the earlier period and 21.1 percent during the latter era.

Compared with other states, using the Census Bureau’s three-year average, Louisiana appears to have the nation’s highest percentage of poverty-stricken residents.

The Census Bureau reported that on a regional basis, poverty remains highest in the Southern states. But poverty lessened in the Midwest and Western states.

Nationally, the Census Bureau counted 46.5 million people living in poverty, including 16.1 million children. The poverty rate is set by the federal government as benchmark for various services. For a family of four, poverty is an annual income of $23,283.

In 2007, before the recession began in earnest, the poverty rate was 12.5 percent, as compared with 15 percent in 2012.

The nation’s median household income was $51,017 in 2012. Median income means half the households earned more and half earned less.

“For the first time in five years, neither median household income decreased nor the percent of the population in poverty increased,” David Johnson, director of the Census Bureau section in charge of the survey, said.