Census Report Shows the Downturn's Bite: The Ticker

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By George Anders

Americans may still believe they live in the land of opportunity, but a new Census Bureau report is packed full of data showing the U.S. as a nation of fading prosperity.

Last year, the median inflation-adjusted, or real, household income totaled $49,445. That figure is down 2.3 percent from the year-earlier -- and is a stark 7.1 percent below the peak U.S. showing in 1999. Even though the U.S. economy has grown by many other measures in the past dozen years, none of that expansion has translated into improved household earnings.

Poverty rates, not surprisingly, are up. According to Census data, 46.2 million people, or 15.1 percent of U.S. residents, last year were living in poverty. That's the highest rate since 1993. The U.S. government defines the poverty threshold for a family of four as annual income of $22,314 or less.

Some 16.3 percent of people in the U.S. didn't have health insurance last year, a figure that isn't statistically different from the prior year. But an intriguing trend may be taking shape in the nature of Americans' health coverage.

Last year, the percentage of people with private insurance declined half a percentage point, to 64 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage participating in government insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid climbed six-tenths of a percentage point, to 31 percent.

One bright spot: the U.S. is still gaining economic vigor from its immigrants. Households led by naturalized citizens last year earned about 4 percent more than households led by native-born Americans. The foreign-born householders' edge widened last year, mainly because their incomes didn't decline as much as native-born Americans' did.

-0- Sep/13/2011 15:50 GMT