Everyone knows the Great Recession took a massive economic toll on the American people, cutting their wealth by 40 percent and sending millions to the unemployment lines. On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed still one more shocking fact about the downturn's toll: Nearly one-third of all Americans were in poverty at some point between the years of 2009 and 2011. (For reference, a family of four with two children earning less than $23,283 would have been in poverty as of 2012.)
Fully 31.6 percent of all Americans were in poverty for at least two months during that period – the tail end of the recession and the following 2.5 years, during which the unemployment rate crept as high as 10 percent. This kind of poverty is known as "episodic" poverty, but the data show that people in poverty for extended stretches suffered as well. The rate of people who were in poverty for a full calendar year grew from 7.2 percent in 2007 to 8.3 percent in 2011. And the share of people who were living in poverty for all three years studied jumped from 3.0 in 2005 through 2007 to 3.5 percent, a leap of almost 17 percent.
To people who live well-insulated from poverty, the fact that almost one-third of Americans dipped below the poverty threshold may come as a surprise. Perhaps more surprising is the disproportionate impact of poverty on people's lives.
More than half of all families headed by single women slipped below the poverty level during this same stretch, and roughly one in 10 were in chronic poverty. In addition, poverty far more heavily affected minorities than whites. Roughly half of all Hispanics, 49.6 percent, and more than 45 percent of blacks experienced episodic poverty, compared to only 25.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites.