According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.6 percent of Americans were in poverty for at least two months from 2009 to 2011, a 4.5 percentage point increase over the prerecession period of 2005 to 2007. Poverty was a temporary state for most people; however, 3.5 percent of Americans were in poverty for the entire three-year period.
The report, Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty, 2009-2011, traces a sample of U.S. residents through the Survey of Income and Program Participation — statistics are presented by various demographic and socio-economic characteristics, and statistical comparisons are made to data collected from 2005 to 2007.
“When people see poverty statistics, they often think these are people who were poor during an entire period,” said Ashley Edwards, a poverty analyst with the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. “This survey allows us to investigate how individuals moved into and out of poverty during and immediately following the most recent recession, while making comparisons to the earlier three-year period immediately leading into the recession.” According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the last recession spanned from December 2007 to June 2009.
Poverty was a persistent condition for many
; among the 37.6 million people who were poor at the start of the period — January and February 2009 — 26.4 percent remained poor throughout the next 34 months. However, many people escaped poverty: 12.6 million, or 35.4 percent, who were poor in 2009 were not in poverty in 2011.
As some moved out of poverty, others moved into it. About 13.5 million people, or 5.4 percent, who were not in poverty in 2009 slipped into poverty by 2011.
Other highlights from the report include:
• The percent of individuals experiencing a poverty spell lasting at least two months increased from 27.1 percent over the period of 2005 to 2007 to 31.6 percent from 2009 to 2011. Chronic poverty rates (poor all 36 months) also increased, from 3.0 percent over the prerecession period to 3.5 percent from 2009 to 2011.
• For those who were in poverty for two or more consecutive months from 2009 to 2011, the median length of a poverty spell was 6.6 months, up from 5.7 months over the period from 2005 to 2007.
• Approximately 44.0 percent of poverty spells occurring from 2009 to 2011 ended within four months, while 15.2 percent lasted more than 24 months.
• While 35.4 percent of individuals who were in poverty in 2009 managed to escape poverty in 2011, approximately half (49.5 percent) continued to have income below 150 percent of their poverty threshold.
• People 65 and older had lower annual poverty rates than children or working-age adults, but once the elderly entered poverty their median spell durations of 8.3 months were longer than both children and working-age adults.
• People in families with a female head of household had longer median poverty spell lengths than those in married-couple families (8.4 and 5.6 months, respectively).
• Hispanics were more likely than blacks to enter poverty over the course of 2009 to 2011, but also more likely than blacks to exit poverty. Hispanics also had shorter median spell durations, 6.5 months, while the median duration for blacks was 8.5 months.