What to Expect in Census Report: Fewer Americans Uninsured But More Living in Poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau will release new data Wednesday on poverty, income and health insurance rates for 2011 based on its annual Current Population Survey (CPS). The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has analysis of what we can expect to see in that report.

First, as the Center's Matt Broaddus explains, the health care data are likely to bring some good news and some bad news:

The good news: preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that in 2011, the total number of uninsured Americans fell for the first time in four years. Less promising: private health coverage among adults from 26 to 64 years old continued to fall, marking the fourth consecutive yearly decline in the coverage rate for this group, though major provisions of health reform scheduled for implementation in 2014 are designed to reverse this erosion of private coverage.

One reason for the overall improvement in the health insurance rate can be found in a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, as Broaddus explains:

Among adults aged 19 through 25, 56.2 percent had private insurance coverage in 2011 — 5.2 percentage points more than in 2010. A provision in health reform that allows adult children to obtain coverage through their parents’ health insurance plans up to their 26th birthday is likely the overwhelming reason why.

The news is not so good with regard to poverty. As the Center's Arloc Sherman writes, the poverty rate likely rose in 2011 in no small part because of a decline in unemployment insurance (UI) payments and large public-sector layoffs, much as Pennsylvania saw last year in schools and local governments. Citing preliminary Census data, Sherman writes:

For the first 11 months of 2011, the average share of people with monthly cash income below the official poverty line rose by about half a percentage point, the data show. They also show that a decline in UI payments added half a percentage point to the monthly poverty rate, compared to what it otherwise would have been. UI benefits kept 1.3 million fewer people out of poverty in the first 11 months of 2011 than in the same months of 2010 (see graph).

Falling income from public-sector employment added another 0.2 percentage points to the poverty rate, the data show, as public-sector jobs kept roughly 600,000 fewer people above the poverty line in 2011 than in 2010. Taken together, income from UI and public-sector jobs kept 25.0 million people above the monthly poverty line in 2011, down from 26.9 million in 2010.

These preliminary estimates will likely differ somewhat from the official figures, which will come from a different Census survey and will be based on annual data. But the finding that falling UI benefits and public-sector employment pushed poverty rates upward is solid.

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