Poverty remains stuck at 46.5 million

WASHINGTON – The nation’s poverty rate remained stuck at 15 percent last year despite America’s slowly reviving economy, a discouraging lack of improvement for the record 46.5 million poor and an unwelcome benchmark for President Barack Obama’s recovery plans.

More than 1 in 7 Americans were living in poverty, not statistically different from the 46.2 million of 2011 and the sixth straight year the rate had failed to improve, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Median income for the nation’s households was $51,017, also unchanged from the previous year after two consecutive annual declines, while the share of people without health insurance did improve but only a bit, from 15.7 percent to 15.4 percent.

“We’re in the doldrums, with high poverty and inequality as the new normal for the foreseeable future,” said Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in income inequality. “The fact we’ve seen no real recovery in employment and wages means we’ve just flatlined.”

Mississippi had the highest share of its residents in poverty, at 22 percent, according to rough calculations by the Census Bureau. It was followed by Louisiana, New Mexico and Arkansas. On the other end of the scale, New Hampshire had the lowest share, at 8.1 percent.

The last significant decline in the national poverty rate came in 2006, during the Bush administration and before the housing bubble burst and the recession hit. In 2011, the rate dipped to 15 percent from 15.1 percent, but census officials said that change was statistically insignificant.

For the past year, the official poverty line was an annual income of $23,492 for a family of four.

In Pennsylvania, poverty rose slightly last year but remained below the national average, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

The data showed that almost 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania, or 13.9 percent, were living in poverty last year. That’s up slightly from 13.8 percent in 2011 and 13.4 percent the year before. Pennsylvania’s population is almost 12.8 million.