WASHINGTON — The ranks of poor and uninsured Americans are likely increasing, with more than 38.8 million believed to be in poverty.
Rebecca Blank, the Commerce Department's undersecretary of economic affairs, spoke to The Associated Press in advance of next month's closely watched release of 2008 census data. Noting that the figures are not yet final, Blank said the numbers likely will show a "statistically significant" increase in the poverty rate, to at least 12.7 percent. That would represent a jump of more than 1.5 million poor people compared with the previous year.
"There's no question that 2008 economically was a much worse year than 2007," she said Wednesday. "The question is how much and how bad."
The number of uninsured is also expected to increase notably due largely to rising unemployment and the erosion of private coverage paid for by employers and individuals. In 2007, the number of uninsured fell by more than 1 million, mostly because government programs such as Medicaid picked up the slack.
The census figures, set to be released Sept. 10, could have ramifications as Congress returns from its August recess to debate health-care reform, its cost and the ways to pay for it. Republicans also traditionally point to the intractable poverty rate as a sign that government programs for the poor do not work.