Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Poverty Rate Remains Well above Pre-recession Level; Health Insurance Coverage Improves Slightly

New information released today by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that most Americans have seen little or no benefit from the gradual economic recovery over the last few years.

The new statistics show that the nation’s relatively high poverty rate remained at 15.0% in 2012, which amounts to 46.5 million people living in poverty and is still significantly higher than the pre-recession rate of 12.5%.  Median household income also remained flat in the U.S. last year and has fallen 8.3 percent since 2007, the year before the recession began.

Although much more detailed data will be released by the Census Bureau on Thursday, September 19, the figures released today from the Current Population Survey (CPS) are the best source with respect to long-term trends in health insurance coverage. Some of the noteworthy insurance trends include the following:
  • Over the last 12 years, the portion of non-elderly Americans (ages 0-64) who have employer-sponsored insurance has fallen from 68.7% to 58.4%.
  • Wisconsin has historically had a much higher portion of its residents with employer coverage (than most other states), but that rate has been falling faster here over the last 12 years: from 77.3% to 64.7%.
  • Averaging together two years of data (to make the figures more reliable), there were approximately 506,000 fewer Wisconsinites with employer-sponsored insurance in 2011/12 than in 1999/2000.
  • Between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of Americans lacking health insurance fell slightly to 15.4%; but that still leaves 48 million uninsured.
Thursday’s ACS data will provide a much more accurate picture of the short-term trends, but the national improvement in insurance coverage in 2012 appears to have resulted from a significant increase in the portion of the population on Medicare, as well as higher rates of insurance among children and young adults.

The good news is that the national data show that Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and BadgerCare have been doing a pretty good job of holding down the number of uninsured Americans, notwithstanding a long and pronounced drop in employer coverage. (Read more about the success of CHIP in this new CBPP blog post.)  The bad news is that there are still far too many adults and children who are uninsured, which is why the federal health care reform law is so important.

On Thursday (9/19), the Census Bureau will release more reliable state-level data from the American Community Survey, as well as data for more than 20 Wisconsin counties. At that time, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families will provide an analysis of the Wisconsin data for income, poverty, child poverty, and health insurance.

The full Census Bureau report is available on their website. Complete analysis of the national trends can be found on the website of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Jon Peacock

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