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Census Bureau: Poverty rate in NW rose sharply then leveled off

Nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty, but the numbers are a little better in Northwest states. That's the headline from the latest population survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The definition of poverty varies with family size. The Census Bureau defines poverty for a family of four as living on less than $22,113 per year. Last year, about 14 percent of the population in Idaho and Oregon lived below the poverty line, with 11.5 percent of Washingtonians in the same fix.

In the Northwest states, the poverty rate rose sharply during the recession and has plateaued since 2009. Professor Marieka Klawitter of the University of Washington's West Coast Poverty Center analyzed the latest data.

"The numbers are not going down. Unfortunately, that's not surprising. The poverty numbers tend to follow the unemployment rate numbers," Klawitter said.

And, unemployment remains stubbornly high.

The same Census Bureau report also shows the percentage of people without health insurance remains at nearly 18 percent in the West. There was no meaningful change in the number of uninsured between 2009 and 2010. A small decrease in employment-based health coverage was offset by an equivalent increase in government provided coverage.

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Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.