There were nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty in 2011, under an alternative measure released by the Census Bureau Wednesday.
That’s 16.1 percent of the nation, higher than the official poverty rate of 15 percent that was released in September and showed 46.6 million people living in poverty.
Neither the supplemental nor the official poverty rates last year were significantly different than in 2010.
The Census Bureau’s second annual supplemental poverty measure includes various government benefits and expenses not captured by the official poverty rate, which will continue to be used to determine eligibility for public assistance and federal funding distribution. The alternative calculation also takes into account geographic differences in prices.
Medical costs pushed up the number of people in poverty, particularly senior citizens, by 3.4 percentage points. These costs outweighed the benefit of non-cash public assistance, such as food stamps, housing assistance and refundable tax credits, which lifted many people out of poverty.
The government’s definition of poverty is based on total income received. For example, the poverty level for 2012 was set at $23,050 of total yearly income for a family of four. Most Americans (58.5 percent) will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75.
About half of those living in poverty are non-Hispanic white (19.6 million in 2010), but poverty rates are much higher for blacks and Hispanics. Non-Hispanic white children comprised 57 percent of all poor rural children.
The economic turmoil has taken an especially high toll on children, for whom last year’s poverty rate of 22 percent was since 1993. The rate for black children climbed to nearly 40 percent, and more than a third of Hispanic children lived in poverty, the Census Bureau reported. The rate for white children was reported as above 12 percent.