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Census: U.S. poverty rate hit 52-year high in 2010

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Poverty in the United StatesContinued high unemployment drove the number of Americans living in poverty to a 52-year high in 2010 and pushed the nation’s median household income down for the third straight year since the Great Recession first cast its ominous cloud over the nation’s economy.

More than a year after the economic recovery officially began in June 2009, 46.2 million people were earning below the poverty level in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures released on Tuesday.

Along with the largest number of poor Americans since the estimates were first published in 1959, the 2010 U.S. poverty rate of 15.1 percent was the highest since 1993 and up nearly a full percentage point from 2009.

Government analysts say the rising poverty levels are rooted in the 86.7 million working-age adults who were unemployed for at least a week last year, compared to just 83.3 million in 2009. That spike of 3.4 million people “might be the single most important factor contributing to the increase in the poverty rate,” said Trudi Renwick, head of poverty statistics at the U.S. Census Bureau.

It also helps explain why the median household income — the amount at which half of U.S. households earn more or less — fell 2.3 percent or $1,154 last year to $49,445.

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