The Census Bureau said today that it estimates 47.4 million Americans are living in poverty, which is 7 million more than the estimate it released earlier this year and translates to one in six Americans.
The disparity between the two estimates comes partly from a difference in the definition of poverty.
The Census Bureau based its earlier estimate on income level -- households falling below a certain level are considered to be living in poverty. The White House's Office of Management and Budget mandates that federal agencies use that formula. The OMB currently sets the poverty line at anything below $22,050 a year for a family of four.
But the National Academy of Science offers a different formula, which the Census Bureau used to determine this week's alternate estimates. The National Academy of Science's formula takes into account factors such as where people live, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and the cost of child care.
"We haven't seen rates this high, especially for certain groups, for 25, 30 years," said Ron Haskins, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a former White House and congressional advisor on welfare issues.
Today's numbers show that 7.1 million Americans 65 and older live in poverty -- that's 3 million more than the previous estimate. Additionally, 27 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 and 13.3 million children live in poverty.
At the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, nearly every room -- even offices -- have been converted into shelter space. A year ago, L.A. County had 5,700 homeless families. Today there are 8,100.
Last spring, Colin Kakiza and his family had to move to the Union Rescue Mission after they lost everything because of the tough economic times. Six months later, he now works there.
"As much as we're hearing a lot of good news about stimulus packages and turning the economy around, I think beneath the surface we're still seeing unemployment and foreclosures really bringing forth this new face of homelessness," Kakiza said.
Life Below the Poverty Line
Monique Sims and her husband lost jobs in construction and retail. With a new baby and a 12-year-old son, the couple is struggling to make ends meet.
"For my son, he's always had everything he wanted, and we haven't been able to give him anything for zero income. He understands, but it's hard," Sims said.
"Next year it will be worse, no question," Haskins said. "One of the main causes is rising unemployment and the numbers we have now is only through 2008."