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Poverty rate spikes

The human toll of the Great Recession is illuminated by the Census Bureau's report that one in seven Americans is living in poverty. The total is nearly 44 million, the highest level since 1994, and an increase of 4 million since last year.

Among people ages 18 to 64, poverty rose from 11.7 percent to 12.9 percent. Child poverty increased to 20.7 percent.

The poverty line is $10,830 in pretax cash income or $22,050 for a family of four.

Some economists had expected an even sharper increase, given the depth and severity of the recession, but they generally expect the numbers to continue to rise this year as the economy struggles to expand and joblessness remains around 10 percent.

The economic blows have been softened by expanded government programs, including increases in Social Security payments in 2009 and extensions in unemployment insurance championed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. Expanded jobless payments helped keep 3.3 million people out of poverty last year and enhanced food stamps and tax credits benefited another 7.8 million people hovering near poverty.

The number of American without health insurance rose to 51 million in 1009 from 46 million in 2008. Although more children had coverage because of growing government health programs, the number of adults without insurance climbed because they lost jobs with health benefits or companies scaled back coverage or increased the employees' share of premiums, making it unaffordable. Those numbers will drop dramatically when the health-reform law takes effect in 2014.

The government -- along with the yeoman efforts of charities and individuals -- has helped ease the burden on the nation's frayed and sagging social safety net. Those exertions have spiked the deficit, temporarily, but that is a necessary price for alleviating the burdens of millions.


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