New Census data raise number of poor to 49 million

Mon Nov 7, 2011 3:27pm EST
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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of poor Americans hit a record 49 million in 2010, or 16 percent, according to new data released on Monday that showed poverty rates for the elderly, Asians and Hispanics higher than previously known.

The figures were calculated by the Census Bureau under a broad new measure intended to supplement the official standard with a fuller picture of poverty in the United States. Results contrast with official poverty data, released in September, that put the number of poor Americans at 46.2 million.

The biggest rise occurred among people aged 65 and older who are being driven into poverty by out-of-pocket medical expenses, including premiums and co-pays from the federal government's Medicare program for the elderly.

The poverty rate for the elderly jumped to 15.9 percent, or a roughly 1 in 6 senior citizens, versus 9 percent under the official count.

The findings highlight the challenges facing Republicans and Democrats on a special congressional "super committee" charged with cutting at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years.

Both sides have proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare, which threatens to explode the U.S. debt burden, despite intensive lobbying against reductions by groups that represents beneficiaries and healthcare providers.

"People will say this shows how crucial it is not to cut a penny out of Medicare spending. And that's unfortunate, because it's an argument against solving the deficit," said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.

Like the government's Social Security pension system for the elderly, Medicare is also expected to be a hot-button issue in 2012 election politics for both parties as they vie for control of the White House and Congress.   Continued...

<p>People receive items from a food bank in Gary, Indiana March 31, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>