Census: Number of Poor May Be Millions Higher Than We Thought

A second look at census data reveals some surprises about seniors and African Americans.

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Homeless in Las vegas (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While political discourse focuses on relief for the struggling middle class, it ignores a problem that appears to have been supersized: America may have 4 million more people living in poverty than previously thought, according to revised measurements released yesterday.

The number of poor people in the U.S. is millions higher than previously known, with 1 in 6 Americans -- many of them 65 and older -- struggling in poverty due to rising medical care and other costs, according to preliminary census figures released Wednesday.

At the same time, government aid programs such as tax credits and food stamps kept many people out of poverty, helping to ensure the poverty rate did not balloon even higher during the recession in 2009, President Barack Obama's first year in office.

Under a new revised census formula, overall poverty in 2009 stood at 15.7 percent, or 47.8 million people. That's compared to the official 2009 rate of 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million, that was reported by the Census Bureau last September.

Across all demographic groups, Americans 65 and older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula -- nearly doubling to 16.1 percent. As a whole, working-age adults 18-64 also saw increases in poverty, as well as whites and Hispanics. Children, blacks and unmarried couples were less likely to be considered poor under the new measure.

The new measurements, which will not replace the official poverty stats, take into account geographical variations in the cost of living, as well as tax credits and in-kind benefits such as food stamps.

Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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