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A Sobering Economic Reminder From the Census Bureau A Sobering Economic Reminder From the Census Bureau

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A Sobering Economic Reminder From the Census Bureau


Job seekers stand and wait for a career fair to open on Sept. 2, 2010 in Denver.(John Moore/Getty Images)

It’s time for another episode of America’s least-favorite game show, “How Bad is the Economy, Really?”

Today’s show is sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau. Its theme is “Worse Than You Thought, if You Can Fathom That.”


The bureau’s annual report of income, poverty, and health care statistics, released on Tuesday, is stuffed with bleak news.

As lawmakers continue to joust over how to accelerate growth and unleash job creation, the Census numbers are a timely reminder of how mightily the U.S. economy struggled over the last decade -- and particularly over the last few years, during and after the Great Recession.

Poverty's Rise

The poverty rate jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010, representing 46.2 million people, up from 43.6 million in 2009.

Source: Census Bureau


• Last year, real median income dipped below $50,000 a year for the first time since 1996.

• By that measure -- median income -- this is the worst post-recession economy ever recorded by the Census Bureau (which began compiling this data in 1967). From 2009 to 2010, real median income fell by 2.3 percent, a steeper drop than the years that followed the end of recessions in the 1970s, '80s, '90s, and early 2000s.

• In 2009, the year the recession ended, there were 43.5 million Americans living in poverty. By the end of 2010, that number had grown to 46.2 million. That’s a 0.8 percent increase -- the highest post-recession rate since 1980.


• More than a quarter of American households earned less than $25,000 a year in 2010. Adjusting for inflation, that hasn’t happened since 1994.

• Last year was a nadir of sorts for low-income earners. Since the Census Bureau started tracking the statistic, the poorest 20 percent of Americans have never earned a lower share of the nation’s total income than the 3.3 percent they earned in 2010.

• Young Americans, aged 15 to 24, saw their incomes fall by nearly 10 percent between 2009 and 2010.

• Minorities saw their incomes decline further than whites. By 2010, white Americans’ median incomes were down 5.4 percent from their pre-recession peak. Hispanics and Asians each saw incomes drop by about 7.5 percent in that timeframe. For African-Americans, they dropped 10 percent.

• Even the rich have suffered (really). While median incomes stagnated in the 2000s, the highest-earning Americans saw their incomes grow throughout the decade. The recession and its aftermath have wiped out those income gains at the top. In 2010, income at the lower bound of the top 10 percent of earners was $138,923 -- a 3.5 percent drop from its pre-recession peak.

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