According to numbers released recently by the Census Bureau, America’s poverty rate is at a 17-year high. A total of 15.1% of Americans lived below the poverty threshold last year, with the economy not showing any signs of turning around, one can presume that number to be on the rise. 

The poverty rate jumped nearly a full percentage point from 2009, when 14.3% of Americans were below the threshold: $22,314 for a family of four, and a scant $11,139 for individuals.

Poverty Rate Increases by Millions in One Year

The .8% uptick means that 2.6 million more Americans lived in poverty in 2010 who did not just a year prior. To put that in perspective, that’s as if the whole borough of Brooklyn went from relative comfort to poverty in the course of a year. Oy vey!

Now, the total number of Americans living in poverty is 46.2 million. That’s about one in six Americans, or the populations of Texas and New York state combined. Fortunately for those two states, however, aren’t the poorest; that sorry title goes to Mississippi, followed by neighboring Louisiana, both of which broke the 20% poverty rate threshold.

Poverty Rate High During the Wealthiest of Times

These numbers are tragic, and speak not only to the disastrous economic policies of the last decade, but also of the last thirty years; poverty is no higher than it has been at times in the past, but there is more wealth in our country now than ever and it is concentrated in the hands of the few, many of whom work in the financial sector.

According to the FDIC [pdf], about 30 million Americans are underbanked or entirely unbanked. One would imagine that there is a great deal of overlap in these two statistical groups — it’s likely very large. Not only that, but the FDIC’s numbers are two years old — these will likely be bigger the next time we see them.

It is incumbent on banks to provide services to those most in need in our country, especially as times get hard. Otherwise, the poor must routinely use alternative financial services, like check cashing and pawn shops, which serve only to chip away at what little they earn. If the big commercial banks need an economic incentive (they do, obviously) to do more to court the lower end of the economic spectrum, they can look to Walmart to see how much money they’re missing out on.


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