Monday, April 4, 2011

Poverty Table 2009

Last year around this time, I published (on the earlier version of this blog) the official Poverty Table for 2008. Now a new table, for 2009, became available in September 2010—and I expect we shall have to wait until the fall to see data for 2010. Therefore these are the latest numbers available. Here is what they look like.

The table is not quite legible, but if you click on it, you can see a much-enlarged version. For convenience, I’m also reporting, below, the weighted average poverty thresholds for major categories in larger type. The weighted averages are based on the relative number of families in each subcategory (shown above, not here) based on number of children. They provide a ball-park view of poverty rates eleven categories by size.

The meaning of these numbers is simply that if your income is the one shown on this table—or lower—then you are poor. If higher, then not. Thus if an old man or woman is living alone on $10,290 a year, he or she just misses the mark by a buck! But we have to draw a line somewhere, don't we?

Contemplating these numbers every now and then is a useful exercise in mixed feelings: Relief that we are above this line; anguish that some are at or even well below it. And, neutrally, the understanding grows. Now we know that the word poverty means in America these days. The imagination gets a workout when you contemplate—say you are a family of four—getting along on $21,954 a year!

Careful reading of the note under the full table will inform us that povery rates have been lowered in 2009 over against 2008. The reason for this is that changes in the CPI, the Consumer Price Index, are used in the calculation of these rates. Now the interesting aspect of using the CPI is that food and fuel have been rising while the rate as a whole has dropped since the last round of calculations. But when you have to get along on incomes such as those shown here, food and fuel will tend to be a whole lot bigger a percentage of total income than for those who are floating above the lines drawn here toward the bottom of the economy.

The tabulation I am showing is available from the Bureau of the Census here.

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