Census: Poverty rate remains stuck at its highest level since 1993

The number of people in the United States living in poverty remains at its highest level since 1993 with 46.2 million people — including 16.1 million children — living below the poverty line, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. 

The poverty rate effectively leveled off in 2011 following three straight years of increases, the bureau said. Even so, the current level amounts to 15 percent of the nation's population.  

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The new data finds that three years after the financial crisis and economic downturn, median household income dropped 1.5 percent to $62,273, the second straight year income had fallen in the U.S. That level is 8.1 percent lower than it was in 2007, before the recession began, and 8.9 percent lower than its 1999 peak.

The data found a wide racial discrepancy when it came to poverty. The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites stood at 12.8 percent, while the rates for blacks and Hispanics were roughly twice as high, at 27.6 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively. The poverty rate for Asians was actually the lowest among racial categories tracked by the Census, at 12.3 percent.

Women were more likely than men to live in poverty. The female rate was 16.3 percent in 2011, compared to 13.6 percent for males.

The Census Bureau defined poverty in 2011 as an individual making less than $11,702 a year, which scales upward as more people are added to a family unit. A family of four, for example, with two children under the age of 18 would fall below the poverty line with a household income of less than $22,811.

The report also found that the number of people with health insurance climbed in 2011 to 84.3 percent, up from 83 percent in 2010. The percentage of people covered by private health insurance did not fall, marking the first time in a decade that was the case. In 2011, 9.7 percent of children, or 7.6 million, were without health insurance, roughly the same level as 2010.

— This story was updated at 10:56 a.m.