The Census Bureau just informed us that in 2010, we had 46.2 million people living in poverty—the highest number since 1959, when the census began keeping track of economic status. The figure is up .8 percent (14.3 percent to 15.1 percent) from 2009, and represents almost one-sixth of Americans
The new statistics have especially disturbing implications for young people. Last spring, says the census report, 5.9 million people from 25 to 34 years of age were living with their parents. They “had an official poverty rate of 8.4 percent,” says the report, “but if their poverty status were determined using their own income, 45.3 percent had an income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65.” Poverty these days is defined as $22, 314 for a family of four, $11,344 for an individual under age 65.
The issue of poverty is related to the issue of health insurance in two ways: first, because those who are poor are less likely to have health insurance, and second, because those who don’t have health insurance often incur costs that make them poor, or poorer, if they become seriously ill. The Census Bureau says the number of Americans without health insurance was up to 49.9 million last year; that’s 16.3 percent of us, up from 16.1 percent in 2009. The reason: fewer people had coverage provided by employers.
There’s one bit of good news on the health insurance front, however, and it concerns the young: the percentage of uninsured people between 18 and 24 fell from 29.3 to 27.2, though no other age group posted a decrease.
Experts say the reason more young people now have insurance is likely the Obama health care reform provision that allows parents to keep their children on the family plan until they’re 26. Before, many insurers dropped children from family plans when they reached the age of 19 or when they graduated from college.
It’s possible to be poor and lead a long, healthy life, but people who manage to do that don’t make up the statistical majority. In general, there’s a connection between income—not necessarily affluence—and life expectancy.
According to the American Journal of Public Health, in 2000, 133,000 Americans died of various causes related to poverty, including lack of health insurance (and poor nutrition, lack of money to move away from poor environmental conditions, and other poverty-related factors). A 2009 Harvard study found that 45,000 people die in the U.S. each year for lack of health insurance.