When the U.S. Census Bureau retooled its formula for determining the number of poor people living in the United States, the number the bureau estimated to be living in poverty shot up from 46.1 million to 49.1 million. Now that reformulation is shining a light on the vast numbers of people who appear to be middle class but who actually fall into a category called the “near poor.”
The new numbers reveal a grim portrait of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, often without access to health care, many behind the middle-class exterior of a suburban home. According to the new data, some 51 million Americans receive incomes that are just 50 percent higher than the official poverty line—a figure that is 76 percent higher than the previous measure, according to The New York Times, which reports:
All told, that places 100 million people—one in three Americans—either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.
Roughly half of the people who fall into the “near poor” category live in the suburbs, and half live in households headed by a married couple. A sizable number—28 percent—work full time.
Yet conservatives in Congress continue to push for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—cuts that could push the “near poor” over the poverty line, and further increase the ranks of the poor, especially among the elderly.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers continue to refuse to raise taxes on the richest Americans, who pay a much smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class taxpayers. Among the expenses now calculated as part of the new poverty formulation—expenses previously omitted under the old formula—is an individual’s tax burden. After adding that, along with the cost of medical expenses, transportation and other life necessities into the formula, the numbers for those in the “near poor” category exploded.
The new numbers on the “near poor” have yet to be published by the Census Bureau. The numbers were crunched at the request of the Times, whose editorial staff suspected a larger story lurked in the new numbers. But the results, the paper reports, shocked even the Census Bureau’s chief poverty statistician, Trudi J. Renwick, who said:
These numbers are higher than we anticipated. There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.
As we reported last week, among the findings yielded by the new formula, which takes into account the cost of taxes, medical care and housing, was a higher level of poverty among Americans above the age of 65 than had been previously thought: 16 percent.