September 12, 2012. Earlier today, the U.S. Census Bureau released its Current Population Survey (CPS) poverty estimates for 2011 for the nation and the 50 states. The release also included revised estimates for 2010.

The overriding message of the poverty data released today is that the poverty rate remains much too high – demonstrating the continuing impact of the Great Recession and the tepid and tenuous economic recovery. (The poverty rate is the percentage of people living below the federal government’s official poverty levels. In 2011, for example, the poverty level averaged $11,484 for single individual households and $17,916 for three-person households.)

In New York, in the nation as a whole, and in most other states, the Census Bureau’s estimates of the two-year average poverty rates for 2010 and 2011 are higher than Census’s two-year estimates for the preceding recession years (2008 and 2009). For the nation as a whole, the Census Bureau estimates that the poverty rate increased by a statistically significant 1.3% from 13.8% in 2008-2009 to 15.1% in 2010-2011. In New York the increase during this same period was also statistically significant, up from 15% to 16%.

These high poverty rates show the pressing need to both strengthen the social safety net and stimulate the economy. There is plenty that the federal and state governments can do. Prime examples include modernizing the unemployment insurance system, avoiding the senseless cuts in Food Stamp funding now being proposed in Congress, and reversing the state and local government layoffs and service cuts that are placing a significant drag on the private sector recovery.

Data released by the Census Bureau today

Our first table (link to pdf) presents the Census Bureau’s single year poverty estimates for the United States and New York State for 1980 through 2011. The 2011 data is new, and the 2010 data is revised from last year’s release.

  • Historical context for the national poverty rate – The data released today by the Census Bureau indicates that the U.S. poverty rate declined slightly (from 15.1% to 15%) from 2010 to 2011 with slightly fewer people estimated to be living in poverty (down from 46.343 million to 46.247 million). In 2010 and 2011, for the first time since 1993, the national poverty rate was estimated to be 15% or higher.
  • Historical context for the state poverty rate – The estimated poverty rate for New York State remained at 16.0% for 2011, the same as it was for 2010. These two years were the first years that the state poverty rate was above 16% since the mid and late 1990s. The number of New Yorkers estimated to have lived in poverty in 2011 (3.085 million) was slightly higher than in 2010 (3.062 million), but not by a statistically significant amount.

A second table (link to pdf) presents the Census Bureau’s estimates of two- and three-year average poverty rates for the 50 states. Because of the CPS’s small sample size for small states, the Census Bureau recommends using these multi-year averages (rather than single year estimates) for comparing the states to each other, and for making comparisons over time.

  • New York compared to other states – Using the 2-year average poverty rate for 2010 and 2011 to make interstate comparisons, New York had the 15th highest percentage of people living in poverty – that is, tied with Nevada, and higher than every other northern industrial state. New York’s 2010-2011 poverty rate was 16% while its tri-state area neighbors Connecticut and New Jersey were at 9.3% and 11.2% respectively.

Next week, the Census Bureau will be releasing 2011 estimates from another survey, the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS has a larger sample size and presents estimates of sub-state jurisdictions with populations of 65,000 or more.