Poverty Survey May Help Obama's Case

The latest poverty figures released by the Census Bureau today might just serve to buttress some of the main points in President Obama's congressional address last night. According to a Reuters report, the bureau reported the U.S. poverty rate rose to its highest level in 11 years in 2008, to 13.2 per cent from 12.5 per cent in 2007.

The bureau also said this is the first statistically significant increase in annual poverty rate since 2004 and translates into a increase of 2.5 million people in real numbers, from 37.3 million to 39.8 million. Real median household income also fell 3.6 percent to $50,303 in 2008, breaking a string of three years of annual income increases and coinciding with the recession that started in December 2007. According to The New York Times, when adjusted for inflation, median family incomes were lower in 2008 than they had been a decade previously.

The Times further situated the Census Bureau's annual report in the context of health insurance reforms, pointing out while the number of American residents who lacked health insurance in 2008 remained steady at 15.4 per cent, people with private or employer-sponsored insurance declined, while the number of people relying on government insurance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and military insurance rose.

Also, the share of children who were uninsured declined, to 9.9 percent from 11 percent in 2007, apparently because of the federal government's special efforts to insure low-income children. But the share of adults aged 18 to 64 without health insurance climbed slightly, to 20.3 percent in 2008 from 19.6 percent in 2007.

While these statistics might give staffers on the Hill something to think about or ammunition for their case, it definitely injects some urgency into Obama's rallying call to "shape" the future, in particular, his vision of America and its character, as he defended Ted Kennedy's liberalism:

That large-heartedness -- that concern and regard for the plight of others -- is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This latest Census Bureau report possibly extends Obama's moral framing of the health care insurance reform debate. It should inject even more momentum to the whole process on the Hill, something the middle class would appreciate even as their economic standing continues to erode during the current recession.