I’ve been poking through the Census Bureau’s annual report on household income, poverty and health-insurance coverage. It’s not pleasant reading.
Overall, the report shows, median household income didn’t change in real terms from 1998-2008. And last year, median household income fell by 3.6 percent. The rate of that decline varied considerably by region, with the steepest fall (4.9 percent) here in the South and the Northeast squeaking out a 0.1 percent gain.
Poverty levels rose as well, particularly among married-couple families. The poverty rate in that subgroup rose from 4.9 percent in 2007 to 5.5 percent in ‘08.
Politically, the data point getting the most attention is the fact that the number of uninsured Americans rose from 45.7 million to 46.3 million. But what does that number really mean? What’s the definition of “uninsured?”
Reading the official Census Bureau explanation makes the number more dire than I had previously understood:
“People were considered ‘insured’ if they were covered by any type of health insurance for part or all of the previous calendar year. They were considered ‘uninsured’ if, for the entire year, they were not covered by any type of health insurance.”
In other words, if you had insurance at any point in the year, you are considered insured in the Census data. Those 46.3 million uninsured were, by the Bureau’s account, uninsured for all of 2007.
And yet we spend twice as much per capita on health care as most other Western industrialized nations. Something is fundamentally wrong, people.
UPDATE: The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute dug deeper into that Census data for insurance numbers specific to the Peach State. It reports that 19.2 percent of Georgia’s non-elderly population were uninsured in 2007-2008, compared with 1.2 million, or 16.4 percent lacking coverage at the start of the decade (2000-2001).
“Employer-provided health insurance is declining in Georgia, an unwelcome statistic for working Georgians,” GBPI notes. “Sixty-two percent of Georgians had employer-provided coverage in 2007-2008, down from 67.6 percent in 2000-2001. The erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance is a leading factor in Georgia’s increasing number of uninsured and indicative of the difficulty of affording health insurance among employers and employees.”