New national data on income, poverty and the uninsured shows recession’s initial effects

Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage for 2008  from its Current Population Survey. You can or click here for fact sheets and links to all the data or click here to read the 72-page PDF report.

Among the main findings of the Census Bureau report:

  • Real (inflation-adjusted) median household income fell by 3.6 percent, from $52,163 in 2007 to $50,303 in 2008. This was the largest single-year decline on record (since 1967), with median household income tumbling to its lowest level since 1997 when adjusted for inflation.
  • The national poverty rate increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent in 2008.  The number of people in poverty increased by 2.6 million people to 39.8 million.
  • The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 682,000 to 46.3 million in 2008. The national rate of uninsured remained unchanged at 15.4 percent of the total population.

As was noted in an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute and a statement from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, yesterday’s numbers represent “only the tip of the recession iceberg”.  CBPP Director Robert Greenstein projects that:

All of these figures almost certainly will look considerably worse next year, since the economy has weakened further in 2009 and unemployment has risen sharply. The number of people in poverty will likely set a 50-year high, while the number of uninsured will likely climb toward the 50 million mark.

Within this dreary national picture, state-level health insurance data released by the Census Bureau offered genuinely encouraging news for Oklahoma, reflecting perhaps that Oklahoma’s economy remained strong until near the end of 2008.  Using the 2-year averages recommended by the Bureau when reporting state-level data, Oklahoma’s  uninsured rate for 2007-08 fell significantly –  from 18.3 percent in 2006-07 to 15.9 percent in 2007-08. The number of uninsured Oklahomans declined from 646,000 in 2006-07 to 565,000 in 2007-08.  Oklahoma’s  2-year average uninsured rate now exceeds the national average by less than one percentage point (15.3 percent national to 15.9 percent Oklahoma), with the state having the 15th highest rate of uninsured.  (The Census Bureau also made available state-level income and poverty data on its website; however, the Current Population Survey released this week is considered to be less reliable for state-level poverty and income data than the American Community Survey, which is scheduled to be released on September 22nd).

A first glance at the state health insurance data suggests that coverage increased in Oklahoma for children and working-age adults alike, and that more Oklahomans were covered by both private and public insurance  in 2007-08 than in 2006-07. We will be conducting more detailed analysis of these numbers in the coming days and will report  our findings in a subsequent blog post. For now, it is worth cheering the gains in insurance coverage revealed by this week’s report, while acknowledging that the continued lack of coverage for over half a million Oklahoman remains a serious challenge and recognizing that, with the arrival of the recession to Oklahoma this year, the 2009 report is likely to be far less rosy.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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