WASHINGTON — The withering recession pushed the number of Americans who are living in poverty to a 51-year high in 2009 and left a record 50.7 million people without health insurance last year, the Census Bureau announced Thursday.
The 43.6 million Americans who were poor in 2009 — up from 39.8 million the year before — was the most since poverty estimates were first published in 1959. The national poverty rate of 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008, was the highest since 1994.
Were it not for federal intervention in the form of extended unemployment insurance benefits, 3.3 million more people would have fallen into poverty last year, said David Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau's division on housing and household economics.
Food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helped keep 2.3 million more people out of poverty.
Massive job losses and work reductions for hourly employees led the number of uninsured Americans to rise from 46.3 million people in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009. The number of Americans who have health coverage decreased — from 255 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009 — for the first time since the data began to be measured in 1987.
Most of that decline stemmed from a loss in the percentage of people who have private and job-based coverage. The number of people with either fell from 201 million in 2008 to 194.5 million last year. The percentage with job-based coverage fell from 58.5 percent in 2008 to 55.8 percent last year, the lowest coverage rate since 1987.
As more people lost jobs and were unable to afford private coverage, enrollment spiked in government insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. In all, the number of people with government-sponsored coverage went from 87.4 million in 2008 to 93.2 million last year.
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