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N.M. Near Bottom for Poverty Rate

New Mexico’s poverty rate and the portion of its population without health care coverage were among the worst in the nation in 2010, even though the median income earned in the state also increased in the past year from 2009 levels, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The ranks of the nation’s poor have swelled to a record 46.2 million – nearly 1 in 6 Americans – as the prolonged pain of the recession leaves millions still struggling and out of work. And the number without health insurance has reached 49.9 million nationally, the most in over two decades.

The figures are in a Census Bureau report, released Tuesday, that offers a somber snapshot of the economic well-being of U.S. households for last year when joblessness hovered above 9 percent for a second year. The rate is still 9.1 percent at the start of an election year that’s sure to focus on the economy and President Barack Obama’s stewardship of it.

New Mexico’s poverty rate was 18.6 percent in 2010, down from 19.3 percent in 2009 but up significantly from pre-recession levels of 14.0 percent in 2007. New Mexico’s poverty rate was 17.5 percent in 2000, the year of the last national census.

New Mexico’s median income of $45,098 in 2010 ranked the state 38th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In constant, 2010 dollars, median income in New Mexico was $44,261 in 2009, $46,643 in 2007 and $44,432 in 2000.

Mississippi had the nation’s lowest median income, at $37,985, followed by Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

The data the Census Department released Tuesday comes from the annual Current Population Survery, which the Census prefers to use for national data. More accurate state level data is due to be released next week in the Census’ American Community Survey, which includes a larger sample of states’ populations.

The nation’s poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, from 14.3 percent the previous year, and the rate from 2007-2010 rose faster than for any similar period since the early 1980s when a crippling energy crisis amid government cutbacks contributed to inflation, spiraling interest rates and unemployment. For last year, the official poverty level was an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four.

Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty are the most on record dating back to when the census began track in 1959. The 15.1 percent tied the level of 1993 and was the highest since 1983.

Broken down by state, Mississippi had the highest share of poor people, at 22.7 percent, according to calculations by the Census Bureau. It was followed by Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Georgia, New Mexico and Arizona. On the other end of the scale, New Hampshire had the lowest share, at 6.6 percent.

New Mexico had the second highest number of people without insurance by percentage, after Texas. In 2010, 21.6 percent of New Mexico’s population, or 435,000 people, lacked health care coverage. That was up from 20.9 percent of New Mexicans in 2009 but less than the 23.0 percent of the population lacking coverage in 2000.

The uninsured in Texas constituted 24.6 percent of the population in 2010.
— This article appeared on page A5 of the Albuquerque Journal