FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The national poverty rate jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010 from 12.5 percent in 2007, the pre-recession rate. In 2010, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty, the largest number on record according to new Census Bureau data. Poverty for a family of four is defined as income of about $22,000. More alarming, one in 15 Americans is living at or below half the poverty level, as the deep poverty rate reached a record high 6.7 percent in 2010.
Preliminary data shows that poverty rose dramatically in Georgia, with 573,000 Georgians joining the ranks of the poor in 2009 and 2010, compared to the two year period before the recession, 2006 and 2007. Georgia’s poverty rate rose to 18.5 percent for the years 2009-2010 from 13.1 percent for 2006-2007, based on two-year averages. Georgia’s median income declined from a pre-recessionary level of $52,255 to $44,082 for 2009-2010. Only Hawaii experienced a large decline. The U.S. Census Bureau will release more authoritative state-by-state estimates of poverty on September 22nd.
More Georgians have also lost their health insurance in the recent years. More than one in five people under the age of 65 living in Georgia had no health coverage, on average in 2009 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau data, an increase of three percentage points from 2006-2007. In total, more than 1.9 million Georgians lacked health insurance over this time period, which is the 5th highest figure of any state.
“The new figures show families in Georgia are severely feeling the effects of the economy. And, yet, our state has depended overwhelmingly on budget cuts in dealing with our revenue shortfall,” said Alan Essig, executive director, Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. “That makes it harder for these struggling families to get by, and it also undermines our investment in education, transportation, health care and other building blocks of job creation and economic growth. We need jobs and economic investment through a balanced approach that includes revenues at both the state and federal levels, not a cuts-only approach that sends more people into poverty.”
The continued decline in employer-sponsored health insurance is the primary cause for the shrinking number of Georgians with health coverage. The percentage of Georgians below 65 had employer-provided coverage in 2009-2010 was 55.7 percent, down from 63 percent in 2006 and 2007 – before the national recession hit. In 1999-2000, 68.7 percent of Georgians had employer-sponsored health insurance.
State and federal investment in health care through Medicaid has helped cushion the loss in employer coverage, particularly for children. Medicaid covered 14.3 percent of Georgia residents below 65 in 2009-2010, an increase from 12.7 percent in 2006-2007. In Georgia, Medicaid coverage of children has risen by 2.1 percentage points since 2006-2007, which has helped fuel modest gains in overall health coverage rates for Georgia’s children since that time.
The steep decline in employer-sponsored insurance over the last decade illustrates the importance of Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare programs in protecting many Georgian’s from being without health coverage. The growing number of Georgians without health insurance also shows the critical importance of the new federal health care law (the Affordable Care Act) and the resources it provides to increase access to health insurance for many Georgians.
Once in effect in 2014, the new law will help Georgians without coverage to obtain affordable private health insurance or to gain coverage through an expanded Medicaid program in Georgia. Nationwide, the law will expand coverage to an additional 32 million people, and in Georgia it will significantly reduce the number of Georgians without health insurance.
“We need to step up our efforts to help Georgian’s weather the recession – not make it harder. Our state needs to take a balanced approach to budgeting that includes revenues. Not only will that help struggling Georgians but it will improve our economy in the long run,” said Essig.
Over the last several years Georgia’s budget has contained deep cuts to education, public health and other services that support struggling families as well as the investments that are the foundations of the state’s ability to create jobs and promote prosperity over the long-term. Policymakers will continue to face tough decisions about how to fill budget shortfalls in 2013, and possibly beyond. Taking a balanced approach that includes revenue instead of a cuts-only approach will be crucial to keeping more families from falling through the cracks as well as maintaining education, health, public safety, and other services that are so crucial to Georgia’s future.
For an analysis of the FY 2012 Georgia state budget, download Georgia’s Budget Primer 2012 at www.GBPI.org. Additionally, GBPI will release a more detailed analysis of poverty in Georgia later this month.
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About Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
GBPI is the state’s leading independent, nonpartisan nonprofit engaged in research and education about the fiscal and economic health of the state of Georgia. GBPI provides reliable, timely analysis of Georgia’s budget and tax policies, and promotes greater state government fiscal accountability, improved services and an enhanced quality of life for all Georgians.