Latest Census numbers show deepening Southern poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau released its latest poverty figures this week, and they show that poverty is worsening nationwide -- but especially in the South.

The official U.S. poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009.  That marks the third consecutive annual increase in the national poverty rate, evidence of the persistently weak U.S. economy.

There were 46.2 million Americans living in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 -- the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which the government has published poverty estimates.

Among U.S. regions, the South experienced the greatest increase in poverty from 2009 to 2010, at 1.2 percent. That was double the 0.6 percent increase in poverty in the Northeast and Midwest, and more than double the 0.5 percent increase in the West.

Households in the South, Midwest and West all experienced declines in median household income between 2009 and 2010. Income in the Northeast fell slightly, but the decline was not statistically significant.

Southern states dominate the list of states with the highest poverty rates. Among the 20 states (including the District of Columbia) with the highest poverty rates, 12 of them are in the South (see chart). The only Southern state with a poverty rate lower than the U.S. average of 15.1 percent is Virginia, with a poverty rate of 10.7 percent.

Some other key findings of the latest Census data:

* The poverty rate of African Americans increased 1.6 percent from 2009 to 2010, to 27.4 percent.

* The poverty rate for children was 22 percent in 2010, with 16.4 million U.S. children living in poverty.

* In 2010, 39.1 percent of black children and 35 percent of Hispanic lived in poverty. In stark contrast, only 12.4 percent of non-Hispanic white children lived in poverty in 2010.

* The poor are getting even poorer, with the share of the population earning below half of the poverty line hitting a record high of 6.7 percent last year.