Source: Nadwa Mossaad, Population Reference Bureau, October 2009
Timely economic data provide the means to assess the severity of the current economic hardship on the U.S. population. Official poverty estimates released on Sept. 10, 2009, by the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2008, the poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent, and child poverty increased from 18 percent in 2007 to 19 percent, the highest level since 1997. Another measure of economic hardship, the monthly unemployment rate, rose to 9.7 percent in August 2009, a 26-year high.
Poverty and unemployment rates help to track the long-term economic health of families and individuals, but both are indirect measures of economic hardship. A more direct measure of family economic need is the number of individuals and families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the federal Food Stamp Program. The amount of assistance depends on household size, income, and expenses. SNAP participation rates have increased dramatically in recent months and could increase even further as income levels drop and more families become eligible.