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The Ranks of the Poorest Poor Are Growing

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One in 15 Americans—about 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the United States population—now rank among the poorest poor, defined as those living at 50 percent or less of the official poverty level. The 6.7 percent share is the record high in the 35 years that the Census Bureau has logged such information. The number of the poorest poor also spiked in 2009 and 1993 at just over 6 percent.

The housing bust has pushed many inner-city poor into the suburbs and other metropolitan areas, according to new census data, reported the Associated Press. Neighborhoods with poverty rates of at least 40 percent are pouring into suburbs at double the rate of cities. A surprising demographic shift has also occurred—these residents are now more likely to be white, Native-born and high school or college graduates, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, a nonprofit public policy institution based in Washington, D.C.

"There now really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners," Robert Moffitt, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, told the AP. "Recessions are supposed to be temporary, and when it's over, everything returns to where it was before. But the worry now is that the downturn—which will end eventually—will have long-lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can't recover."

In 2010, the poorest poor earned an annual income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

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The rise in the poorest poor is widespread. Since 2007, 40 states and the District of Columbia had increases in the poorest poor. The District of Columbia's poorest poor ranked highest at 10.7 percent, reported the AP. Mississippi and New Mexico trailed closely behind in rank. Nevada saw the biggest jump—the poorest poor increased from 4.6 percent in 2007 to 7 percent today. Other areas of extreme poverty include the Midwest, due to a renewed decline in manufacturing, and the Sun Belt metro areas—such as Las Vegas; Riverside, California; and Cape Coral, Florida—where the sinking housing market stripped home values and sucked construction jobs dry.