The poverty line in America for a family of four is $22,811, and based on an annual census report released on Wednesday, the 46.2 million people living at that level remains steady at historic highs.
In fact, a slight drop is considered good and somewhat surprising news as the nation struggles to rebound from the recession, some analysts say.
(Related AP Story: U.S. Poverty Rate Unchanged)
The census data show that the overall poverty rate of 15.0 percent was lower in 2011, compared to 15.1 a year ago "“ a difference of about 96,000 people. More individuals in six groups fell into poverty, specifically Hispanics, foreign-born, non-citizens, people living in the South, and residents of major cities.
By racial segments, Hispanics were the only group to see a decline in year-over-year poverty rates, from 26.5 percent to 25.3 percent. In comparison, the poverty rate is now 9.8 percent for whites, 27.6 percent for blacks, and 12.3 percent for Asians.
Census economist David S. Johnson explained that the better-than-expected results could be attributed partly to people assisted by unemployment insurance.
He also noted a regional employment improvement: 1.2 million Southerners moved from part-time positions to full-time jobs, helping to keep three quarters of a million people above the poverty line.
"These increases in full-time, year-round employment may have contributed to the fall in the number of persons in poverty and the poverty rates for all these groups," he said.
The national real median household income dipped 1.5 percent, to $50,054, with baby boomers 55 to 64 experiencing the largest drop, at 4 percent. For those 35 to 44 years, the drop was 2.3 percent.
An estimated 2.3 million people in 2011 received unemployment insurance, a benefit Johnson said "keeps people out of poverty."
The report, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011," also indicated that more people in America in 2011 had health coverage; the rate of uninsured fell from 16.3 percent to 15.7 percent.
Compared with 2010, the uninsured rate decreased to 19.5 percent for blacks, 16.8 percent for Asians, and 11.1 percent for whites; for Hispanics, the uninsured rate remained significant but static at 30.1 percent.
Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said in a statement that while too many families are still struggling, "It is clear that had President Obama not taken swift and aggressive action to grow our economy and create jobs, today's report would have shown much higher poverty rates, lower incomes, and a greater share of the population without health insurance."
History of Poverty Rate