By Margaret Brinson
Four million impoverished people joined the ranks of the nation’s poor between 2008 and 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which released 2009’s “Current Population Report” in September.
The document, titled “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009,” reports one in seven Americans are now listed at or below poverty income — a total of 43.6 million people.
Poverty in the United States is defined as an income of less than $10,956 for single-unit households, less than $13,991 combined income for two-member households, and less than $21,954 before taxes, tax credits, capital gains and noncash benefits in four-member households, based on the national Consumer Price Index.
Despite the successful passage of President Barack Obama’s health care reform since 2008, the document reports the number of uninsured people increased in 2009 by 4.4 million.
This news comes amidst reports from the Obama administration that the nation is beginning a slow ascent from one of its most staggering recessions.
However, figures coming in from August show unemployment rising to 9.6 percent from July’s 9.5 percent. For the third consecutive month, job losses exceeded job creations, totaling 54,000 jobs lost in August.
“There has definitely been an increase in need, and unfortunately West Tennessee has also seen tremendous job loss,” said Alan Turner, president and CEO of United Way of West Tennessee. “In the past 18 months, 6,000 jobs have just been eliminated, and that’s heads of households — that’s people who were supporting a family, and now there’s no job there.”
Turner also said effects of the recession are still quite palpable in the region.
“It’s news to me that (the recession) ended in 2009,” Turner said. “A lot of people in West Tennessee said we were late to get into it and we’re going to be late to get out of it.”
Ginny Schwindt, assistant professor of social work and field director for the Master of Social Work program, said the current poverty rate is “not just because of the recession, it’s because of things going on in peoples’ lives.”
She named sickness as a top contributor to the rate, especially when a household’s income depends on a person who has fallen ill.
“Who is going to pay that mortgage? Who is going to pay that utility bill?” Schwindt said.
Citing desperation for jobs in a tough market, Turner said prospects of health insurance were also bleak.
“Small businesses can’t afford health insurance. A lot of nonprofits can’t afford it,” Turner said. “Some people can’t leave lower-paying jobs because they don’t want to lose their health insurance, and some people are taking jobs that don’t have health insurance” as part of the financial package.
Turner said the cycle of poverty has a domino effect. Failure to pay a light bill could result in being turned out on the street, which is cause enough for poor job performance and could lead to job loss and thus loss of health insurance.