President Obama Says Increase in Poverty Shows 'Just How Tough 2009 Was'

ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:

Reacting to the Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty , income and health insurance, President Obama said that the numbers show “just how tough 2009 was,” on the nation.

The report shows an increase in the number of Americans living below the poverty line and those without health insurance coverage.

The uninsured population topped 50 million people for the first time and 43.6 million people were in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008.

“Today, the Census Bureau released data that illustrates just how tough 2009 was: along with rising unemployment, incomes failed to rise for the typical household, the percentage of Americans without health insurance rose to 16.7 percent, and the percentage of Americans living in poverty increased to 14.3 percent,” President Obama said in a paper statement, “But the data released today also remind us that a historic recession does not have to translate into historic increases in family economic insecurity.”

The president said that because of the Recovery Act and other tax relief programs millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year. And, he states, because of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) there was little change in the percentage of children without health insurance.

In a conference call with reporters today the Census Bureau said that despite the bleak numbers, the poverty rate was much lower than anticipated given the state of the economy. Census Bureau statisticians believe two important factors contributed to this number: incomes actually rose for those 65 and over – because social security benefits rose, but earned income did not and Unemployment benefits, which are counted by the Census as income, allowed many people teetering above the poverty to stay above it.

Historically, poverty is still below, as a percentage of the population, what it was in 1959. In 1959, 22 percent of the nation was in poverty – 8 percent more than today.

Median household income did not fall this year, but remained stagnant at approximately $49,800 in 2009.

Striking a hopeful tone, the president said that today’s numbers make clear though that the work is just beginning, adding, “I am confident that we will emerge from this storm with a stronger economy.”

At a press conference last week in the East Room of the White House President Obama said he is “constantly thinking” about how to create ladders for communities and individuals to climb up into the middle class.

“The most important anti-poverty effort is growing the economy and making sure there are enough jobs out there -- single most important thing we can do,” the president said last Friday.

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