Poverty rose to 11.4% in 2020 amid pandemic

About 37.2 million people fell below the poverty line in 2020. People here walk through a shuttered business district in Brooklyn on May 12, 2020 in New York City.

(CNN) -- Some 11.4% of Americans were in poverty last year, as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the nation, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday. That compares to 10.5% in 2019, the lowest since records started in 1959.

About 37.2 million people fell below the poverty line in 2020, up 3.3 million from a year earlier.

The pandemic upended the US economy early last year, costing millions of Americans their jobs as states forced non-essential businesses to close and people to stay home in an effort to stop the virus' spread. Though conditions have improved markedly since then, the economy remains more than 5 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020.

However, an unprecedented response from the federal government spared millions of people from the worst ravages of the economic downturn. Congress passed three major relief packages, sending $3,200 in stimulus payments, expanding the unemployment benefits system, beefing up food stamps and providing funds for low-income school children to buy food, deferring student loan payments, imposing a moratorium on evictions, sending relief funds to state and local governments and providing assistance to businesses.

RELATED: More children faced food insecurity last year during pandemic

Median household income fell to $67,500 last year, down 2.9% from 2019, which was the highest since 1967, the first year records were kept, according to the Census Bureau. It was the first statistically significant decline in median income since 2011.

The number of those who work full-time, year-round decreased by approximately 13.7 million people, the largest year-to-year decrease since the agency began collecting comparable data in 1967.

Food insecurity

The federal efforts to support struggling individuals succeeded in keeping hunger at bay last year for Americans overall, a recent US Department of Agriculture report found.

Overall, the share of households contending with food insecurity remained the same in 2020 as the year before at 10.5%, or 13.8 million households, according to the report, which is released annually.

However, food insecurity among families with children rose last year, despite the federal response. Some 14.8%, or 5.6 million households, were in this situation last year, up from 13.6% in 2019.


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