Yesterday, the Census Bureau reported that the recession raised the poverty rate to a 15-year high. It's interesting to note how exactly the poverty rate is framed. If you look at the graph, you'll see that the poverty rate was consistently above 15% until the mid 1960s. Then, it hit 15% in the early 1980s and in the early 1990s. The NYT headline "Recession Raises Poverty Rate to a 15-Year High" is accurate but might be misleading. That's not to say the 15-year high isn't any cause of concern -- but maybe viewing this year's statistics in the context of the second half of the 20th century makes things seem less doom-and-gloom.
This recession was not like the past few recessions. The dot-com burst and the recession of the early 1990s had a more moderate effect on those earning lower wages. The nature of the subprime mortgage crash directly affected those in the lowest income bracket. Whereas the dot-com burst, for example, affected mostly those in the high-tech industries or those who invested in high tech industries, it left low-income folks relatively untouched. The subprime crisis, however, hit low-income folks hard. Despite the pervasive nature of this recent recession, there is some reason to be optimistic, says Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin: "A lot of people would have been worse off if they didn’t have someone to move in with."
It's also interesting to note, at the end of the first page, that while the report showed increases in poverty for whites, blacks, and Hispanic Americans, the Asian poverty rates didn't budge. Causal explanations abound; led by the belief that Asians tend to be frugal and don't purchase beyond their means. Specifically, Asians generally did not get caught up in the subprime mess since they didn't buy homes they wouldn't be able to afford. I'd like to see a study on this theory.