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September 12, 2012 at 8:52 AM

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Are we better off today? Yes and no, says Census Bureau.

Here's a depressing reminder of the lingering consequences of the recession and weak economy. U.S. Census stats show the rate of poverty virtually unchanged, stuck at record highs. It seems the answer to the question key to the upcoming presidential election - are Americans better or worse off today - is neither. We are afloat, neither drowning nor back safe on solid economic ground.

I also think the question posed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and co-opted by President Barack Obama is the wrong one to ask. Of course America is better off today than four years ago. We still have an auto industry and the hundreds of suppliers and small businesses that support it. Millions of workers who haven't seen a raise in a long time still have work. Those who lost their jobs were helped by unemployment extensions. Don't forget. America got hit by an economic Mac truck. We're still convalescing, but we're alive.

Back to the new Census numbers. The poverty rate for 2011 is 15 percent, virtually unchanged from the previous year. It is a different story for children, where the rate rose for the fifth year in a row. Researchers at the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) believe the share of poor children may approach 23 percent—almost a quarter of all children in the nation. And income inequality increased in 2011, reflecting a change in average household income between 2010 and 2011 for the middle 20 percent, and the top 5 percent.

Here's a by-the-numbers summary.

Other noteworthy changes:

More young adults have health insurance today. Thanks Obamacare
Number of people unemployment insurance kept out of poverty in 2011: 21.4 million:
Number of people Social Security kept out of poverty in 2011: 5.7 million:

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