UPDATE: Released this afternoon, from Sojourners, “VIDEO: Obama, Romney Answer Faith Leaders’ Call to Address Poverty in Election.” See videos of Obama and Romney answering the question “what is your plan to address the problem” of poverty at the link, or in the related post here at TM.

Today’s release by the U.S. Census Bureau, “2011 Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Estimates From the Current Population Survey,” had some good news, in that the poverty levels are statistically unchanged. The not good news is that the level at which poverty is holding is that to which it significantly increased over the three previous years. As HuffPo headlines it: “U.S. Poverty: Census Finds 46.2 Million Impoverished As Median Income Drops.”

You can find the complete report at Census.gov. From the “webinar”:

Today we are releasing national income, poverty, and health insurance coverage estimates from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (or CPS).

Let me begin by summarizing the main findings from each subject area.

Real median household income in 2011 declined 1.5 percent from 2010;

The 2011 official poverty rate was 15.0 percent and the number of people in poverty was 46.2 million, neither statistically different from last year; and

The percentage and number of people without health insurance coverage decreased to 15.7 percent, or 48.6 million, in 2011, down from 16.3 percent and 50.0 million in 2010. …

Other numbers related to income:

Real median household income was $50,100 in 2011, 1.5 percent lower than in 2010.

Since 2007, the year before the most recent recession, median household income has declined 8.1 percent and was 8.9 percent below its recent high achieved in 1999. …

Between 2010 and 2011, the earnings of both men and women declined 2.5 percent. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 77 percent, not statistically different from 2010. …

Related to poverty:

… the number of people in poverty (is) at 46.2 million in 2011 and the poverty rate at 15.0 percent. In 2011, a family with two adults and two children was categorized as “˜in poverty’ if their income was less than $22,811. After 3 consecutive years of increases, neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from their 2010 estimates. …

One can see the diminishing share of people in the two of the middle groups of the distribution “” implying an increase in income inequality … .

And, related to health insurance,

… our main finding is that health insurance coverage increased between 2010 to 2011. … The percentage of people without health insurance in 2011 decreased to 15.7 percent. …

The increase in public coverage and no statistical change in private coverage may account for the increase in overall coverage. …

… 25.4 percent of people living in households with income below $25,000 were uninsured, whereas 7.8 percent of people living in households with income above $75,000 were uninsured. …

When we compare 1999 with 2011, all income groups have higher uninsured rates.

A few weeks ago, Bob Herbert wrote Poverty’s Up, Yet Still on the Back Burner. Based on today’s Census Bureau release, the poverty rate is maintaining at the increased rates Herbert is using.

He quotes Robert Kennedy who, in 1968, just two days before announcing he was running for president, spoke about the “plight of the poorest Americans”: “We must begin to end this disgrace … .’

Herbert also quotes Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 commencement address which came to be known as his “Great Society” speech. Johnson said:

“˜The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use (the nation’s) wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.’

Herbert then turns to the present:

Now, nearly half a century later, with the ranks of the poor surging and much of the nation hobbled economically, officeholders can barely find the courage to acknowledge that poverty even exists.

Also taking a look back at the same general time span, is Paul Craig Roberts, writing at IntrepidReport:

In my day, confronted with such disparity in the distribution of income and wealth, a disparity that obviously poses a dramatic problem for economic policy, political stability, and the macro management of the economy, Democrats would have demanded corrections, and Republicans would have reluctantly agreed.

But not today. Both political parties whore for money. …

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are currently on their “Poverty Tour 2.0.” From Delaware’s WDDE:

West asserts that neither party is addressing the topic of poverty and the purpose of the tour is to change that.

“˜We need to put pressure on both parties to deal with the new Jim Crow “” the prison-industrial complex, dilapidated housing in our communities, the unbelievably disgraceful school systems, the levels on unemployment and underemployment. It’s an attempt to insure that candidates talk about poverty,’ said Dr. West … .

“˜Poverty is the new norm in America. One out of two Americans is in or near poverty. We cannot abide a race for the White House that ignores the issue of poverty,’ said Smiley.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are, predictably, more focused, publicly, on the middle class. Off stage, I feel rather safe in guessing the focus is largely toward the upper percentile, with on-stage time for the middle, and little to none for the lower levels, on or off. The photo above, by the way, is compliments of the Democratic National Convention. I’m not sure Bobby Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson would be in attendance, by choice or by invitation.

(Photo via BarackObama)