By Sam Youngman - 09/16/10 05:48 PM EDT
President Obama claimed Thursday that without his economic stimulus package the poverty rate would have been much worse.
The Census Bureau reported Thursday that 4 million people fell below the poverty line last year, bringing the total to 44 million Americans. That boosted the poverty rate to 14.3 percent, which is the highest it's been since 1994.
The GOP claims the $787 billion stimulus package actually hurt the economy. Only three Republicans voted for its passage.
The slow economic recovery has become a campaign issue as Democrats try to retain control of Congress. The White House tried to promote the success of its economic strategy and the stimulus projects through its six-week "recovery summer" program.
The president noted the report showed that the number of Americans without health insurance climbed to 16.7 percent, but he said the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) "helped inoculate our children from the economic distress experienced by their parents."
"The Affordable Care Act will build on that success by expanding health insurance coverage to more families," Obama said.
Obama said that income levels for the middle class, which did not go up in 2009, were already too high before the recession.
"Even before the recession hit, middle-class incomes had been stagnant and the number of people living in poverty in America was unacceptably high, and today’s numbers make it clear that our work is just beginning," Obama said. "Our task now is to continue working together to improve our schools, build the skills of our workers and invest in our nation’s critical infrastructure."
Despite the bad news, Obama said he is encouraged by the optimism of American workers and is "confident that we will emerge from this storm with a stronger economy.”