September 29, 2006

BY THE NUMBERS: POVERTY, INCOME AND HEALTH CARE--AND A COOL NEW SPIDER



Caption: Venus prefers sabotage to statistics.

Although Poverty Day hasn't yet become an official holiday, it does occur with regularity at the end of August and is eagerly awaited by more people than you might imagine.

In fact, looking forward to it is one of the leading symptoms of becoming a policy wonk.

Poverty Day is what some people call the annual release by the Census Bureau of a report on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States.

Lots of groups try to get out a press release or statement regarding the findings as soon as the information is released, but El Cabrero prefers a more patient, measured response (translation: I'm just getting around to it).

Some key findings:

*The number of Americans living in poverty--37 million--hasn't changed from last year, despite several years of economic "recovery." In 2005, 12.6 percent of Americans lived below the official poverty rate, higher than 11.7 percent in 2001.

*Poverty itself is changing for the worse. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "The amount by which the average poor person fell below the poverty line in 2005--$3,236--was the highest on record." Fully 43 percent of poor people fell below half of the poverty line.

*There was a modest increase in median family income (1.1 percent), but this was mostly driven by a rise in income among elderly households. Median income for non-elderly households fell again as it has for every year since 2001. In constant dollars, non-elderly household median income was $2,000 or 3.7 percent lower in 2005 than in 2001.

*The number of uninsured Americans increased by 1.3 million to 46.6 million people in 2005. The percentage rate of Americans without health insurance is 15.9, up from 15.6 percent in 2004 and 14.6 percent in 2001.

Clearly the numbers show the need for policy changes. Some basic--and immediate--steps should include raising the minimum wage and expanding the earned income tax credit for working families.

Restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget process wouldn't hurt either, meaning that programs like Medicaid are a little more important right now than giving more tax cuts to the wealthiest.

This one may take a little longer, but how's that universal health care coming?

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

NPR reported yesterday of the discovery of a cool new Costa Rican tarantula that can shoot web from its toes. Actually, the tarantula wasn't new but the discovery of this ability was. Holy Spiderman, Batman!

El Cabrero respectfully requests that readers of this blog NOT inform his spousal unit lest this creature be added to the growing menagerie. Not that there's anything wrong with being eight-legged and able to squirt web--it's just that WV winters probably wouldn't agree with the new addition.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

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