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43 million Americans live in poverty

One in seven Americans was living in poverty last year – the worst figure since 1994. The poverty rate climbed to 14.3 per cent, or 43.6 million people, the Census Bureau said yesterday in its annual report on the economic well-being of US households. The report covers 2009, President Barack Obama's first year in office.

The poverty rate climbed from 13.2 per cent, or 39.8 million people, in 2008.

The share of Americans without health coverage rose from 15.4 per cent to 16.7 per cent – or 50.7 million people – mostly because of the loss of employer-provided health insurance during the recession. Congress passed a health reform law this year to address rising numbers of the uninsured, but the main provisions will not take effect until 2014.

The new figures come at a politically sensitive time, just weeks before the congressional elections on 2 November, when voters restive about high unemployment and the slow pace of economic improvement will decide whether to keep Democrats in power or turn to Republicans.

The poverty rate, which covers all ages, was lower than estimates of many demographers who were bracing for a record gain based on last year's skyrocketing unemployment. Many had predicted a range of 14.7 per cent to 15 per cent.