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Poverty and Uninsured Soar in 2008, Reports Census

September 10, 2009

In Event at Food Pantry, Advocates Explain Ties between Lack of Health Care and Poverty; Call for Health Care Reform and “New War on Poverty”

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today the nation’s official poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2007. There were 39.8 million people in poverty in 2008, up from 37.3 million in 2007. The number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008. Meanwhile, the real median household income in the United States fell 3.6 percent between 2007 and 2008.

While earnings for the wealthiest Americans dropped, so did earnings for the poorest Americans, and thus inequality of wealth in the U.S. remained the same, which is higher than any industrialized Western nation.

In addition, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger indicated that the premiums it paid to ensure health insurance for its employees rose by 17.1 percent in 2008 and 17.8 percent in 2009. According to a 2006 study by America’s Second Harvest (now called “Feeding America”), 21.4 percent of the 25 million Americans forced to use soup kitchens and food pantries lacked health insurance, even though they represented the “poorest of the poor” who are theoretically supposed to be covered by Medicaid and other public health insurance programs. Fully 41.4 percent reported unpaid medical or hospital bills. When they were asked to describe the condition of their health, 10.9 percent said “excellent,” 14.9 percent said “very good,” 27.9 percent said “good,” 29.9 percent said “fair” and16.4 percent said “poor.” Thus, nearly half of hungry Americans reported being in less than good health – and that was well before the recent economic meltdown.

At an event at the Yorkville Common Pantry, a large emergency feeding program in East Harlem, Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger said “Today’s new numbers make it clearer than ever that lack of health insurance and inability to pay medical bills is one of the greatest contributing factors to poverty and hunger in America. People in poor health rarely earn significant wealth. The nation desperately needs to reform health care.”

Said Stephen Grimaldi, executive director of Yorkville Common Pantry, “These new statistics simply reinforce everything we’ve been seeing with our own eyes here at the food pantry. More New Yorkers are in poverty, earnings are still plummeting, and too many of our clients/customers face severe health problems.”

Continued Berg, “Much of America believes the myth that the War on Poverty of the 1960’s was a failure, but that’s just not true. Between 1960 and 1973, as a result of the strong economy and the War on the Poverty, America’s poverty rate was cut by more than half, from 22.4 percent to 12.1 percent. That represented a 16-million-person reduction. The only reason we have so much poverty today is that the nation abandoned many of its effective anti-poverty initiatives. The nation very much needs a new War on Poverty.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010 9:30 am

    Insurance is the biggest problem…its not working for the poor man.

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