WASHINGTON, D.C.–Data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that nearly 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty, an increase of 2.6 million people since 2009 and the highest figures on record. The poverty rate for children under 18 increased to 22 percent (16,401,000 children) in 2010. Among children under 5, the poverty rate increased to 25.9 percent (5,467,000 children).

“Low-income working families did not create the economic situation that our nation is in, but they tend to be the first hurt and the last to recover during a recession,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “These new poverty figures indicate that many Americans are still suffering.”

The Census figures come on the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual food insecurity data released last week, which indicated that 14.5 percent of American households suffered from food insecurity in 2010. Several key factors contributed to the high figures.

Long-term unemployment worsened between 2009 and 2010, with the number of people who did not work at all as the number one factor contributing to higher poverty numbers. In addition, real median household income declined in 2010, and state and local governments are tightening their belts as they work to recover from the recession, thereby slowing economic growth.

Accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would show 5.4 million fewer people–including 3 million children–living in poverty. The figures would have been much higher without federally funded safety net programs that helped keep more Americans from falling below the poverty line last year. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction–or “Super Committee”–met today to determine how to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit.

The congressional committee must identify $1.5 trillion in federal deficit reductions, and funding is at risk for many of these programs.

“It is important that the needs of vulnerable people remain front and center as the Super Committee begins work on reducing our nation’s deficit,” added Beckmann. “At a time when hunger and poverty are at record highs, we must create a circle of protection around programs that support vulnerable people–not cut those programs. We urge lawmakers to put every possibility on the table as they work toward balancing the budget.”

Census Bureau data found that the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic whites (9.9 percent in 2010, up from 9.4 percent in 2009), Hispanics (26.6 percent in 2010, up from 25.3 percent in 2009), and African Americans (27.4 percent in 2010, up from 25.8 percent in 2009).

Bread for the World (www.bread.org) is a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.