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Number of Americans without Health Insurance Hits Record High

According to a new U.S. Census Bureau report, the number of uninsured people in America has increased by 1.3 million to 46.6 million, including 400,000 more children. Health Correspondent Susan Dentzer discusses the story behind the alarming numbers.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Americans took home slightly larger paychecks last year for the first time in six years, but the number of those living below the poverty line remained about the same. The U.S. Census Bureau released that information and other key economic indicators yesterday in its annual snapshot of economic health.

    The good news? The 1 percent rise in median household income outpaced the rate of inflation for the first time since 1999. The median rose to $46,000; it's still behind where it was in 1999.

    But the new numbers don't mean individual salaries are rising. Instead, census researchers said a big reason was more people working per household.

  • DAVID JOHNSON, U.S. Census Bureau:

    A lot of this is the factors of a lot of new workers coming in, and they have lower earnings than the median. You could have secondary earners in the household that provide additional household income.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The data also showed the poverty rate didn't increase, for the first time in five years. Thirty-seven million people, or about one in eight Americans, live below the poverty line. For African-Americans that rate is even higher, one in four; and for Latinos, one in five.

    The survey also revealed one other piece of significant news: The number of uninsured Americans rose by more than 1 million people, including by more than 360,000 children, to 46 million. It was the first rise in the number of uninsured children in years, and an overall increase of 7 million uninsured Americans since 2000.

    For a closer look at the growing numbers of the uninsured, I'm joined by our health correspondent, Susan Dentzer.

    And, Susan, unemployment has remained low. Household income ticked up slightly. So why that increase in the number of uninsured?

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Ray, I think what it says is that having a job in America is increasingly becoming detached from the question of whether or not you have health insurance.

    We see now, as you said, economic recovery since 2001 has created numbers of new jobs. But, in fact, it hasn't necessarily translated into more coverage for many people and, in fact, quite the opposite.

    We see employment-based coverage continuing to crumble, and that's the real story of the rise in the health un-insurance numbers that were released yesterday, that the number of people who became uninsured, 1.3 million, the driving force behind that was the loss of employer-based coverage in the private coverage market.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is there such a thing as a typical uninsured person? Or has a lot of that growth come from one kind of worker?

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Well, what we've known for a long time is that four out of five people without health insurance are workers or in families where somebody is working full time. So the vast majority of the uninsured have, for a long time, been working people, primarily lower paid people, and also, to a large degree, Hispanics and, to a lesser degree, blacks.

    But what we saw most recently — and in 2005, the numbers released yesterday bear this out — increasingly we're seeing also a loss of coverage in households and families earning $50,000 a year and more, in the middle class. And so that shows that the loss of coverage really is hitting a broad swath of American workers.

    It's tending to be workers who are working for small businesses, people who are working in kind of cyclical-driven industries that go up and down with the economy. But by and large, it's hitting a broad swath of workers. And the driving force behind that is the cost of health insurance coverage.