Poor America

Poor America

by digby

There are a ton of charts floating around today about the new census data. All of them show sharp gains in income inequality, stagnating incomes for everyone but the wealthy, a country very badly battered by an epic recession.

But this is the one that made my stomach churn:

Today's Census report shows that in 2010, the share of all Americans and the share of children living in poverty, the number and share of people living in "deep poverty," and the number without health insurance all reached their highest level in many years — in some cases, in several decades — while median household income fell significantly after adjusting for inflation. The data also show that many of these grim figures and the level of hardship would have been much worse if not for key federal programs such as unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and Medicaid. Without unemployment insurance, for instance, 3.2 million more Americans would have fallen into poverty, Census said...

Specifically, today's report shows that:

In 2010, the share of Americans living in poverty reached 15.1 percent while the share of children in poverty hit 22 percent — both the highest levels in 17 years — while the number of people living in poverty hit 46.2 million, the highest level on record with data back to 1959.

Both the number and percentage of people living in "deep poverty" — with incomes below half of the poverty line — hit record highs, with these data going back to 1975. Some 20.5 million Americans had cash incomes below half of the poverty line (below $11,157 for a family of four, and below $5,672 for a non-elderly person living alone) last year.

Median household income fell 2.3 percent, or $1,154, in 2010, after adjusting for inflation, and those at the bottom of the income scale have lost far more ground than those at the top. Since median income hit its peak in 1999, income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen 12.1 percent for those at the 10th income percentile but only 1.5 percent for those at the 90th percentile. The income gap between those at the 10th and 90th percentile was the highest on record. These data go back to 1967.

The number of Americans without health insurance climbed by 900,000 to 49.9 million, another record, with data back to 1999. The percentage of Americans without insurance remained statistically unchanged at 16.3 percent. Nearly one of every six Americans was uninsured.

These grim figures come in the midst of an emerging debate about the appropriate role of government not only in spurring economic growth but also in addressing hardship. Federal policymakers will have to decide soon whether to extend certain federal initiatives that were designed both to promote growth and to ease poverty and hardship during the economic downturn, such as extended unemployment insurance benefits. Of particular note, Congress could make deep cuts in basic low-income assistance as part of its efforts to reduce long-term deficits, such as through a plan that the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is supposed to craft by Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe:

For the billionaire who has everything, sometimes a superyacht just isn't enough -- that's why the world's wealthiest are buying "gigayachts."
These boats are the ultimate status symbol -- a sign of eminence, power and a seemingly limitless supply of cash. And when it comes to showing off wealth and status it seems the rule is "the bigger the better."

"There's definitely a 'mine is bigger than yours' syndrome in this industry and there is a desire to have the best. That's the great thing about these yachts," said Jonathan Beckett, CEO of Burgess Yachts, one of the world's leading yacht brokers.

"When you get up to 'gigayacht' status, it is all about the best and these people are used to having exceptional possessions around them all the time," Beckett continued.

Although the term "gigayacht" is not new, it is becomingly increasingly prevalent as owners seek bigger and better yachts.
The yacht to beat is currently Roman Abramovich's "Eclipse." The largest private yacht in the world at 163 meters long, "Eclipse" is believed to feature around 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools and a mini-submarine, and was rumored to have cost between $540 million and $1.1 billion.

Although not all gigayachts come with that pricetag, Ashton says the standard measure is around €1 million ($1.36 million) per meter of length.
"That works to a certain extent, but you also have to take into consideration which yard it is made in and the bespoke details involved," he said.

While that pricing means gigayachts are strictly for the super rich, you get a lot of bang for your bucks, Beckett explained: "There is nothing standard when it comes to this area of our market. But if you are purchasing a superyacht you would want a vessel that was transglobal and you'd want a reasonable speed.

"You'd probably want at least two helicopter platforms, so you can land your own helicopter and visitors can also land theirs, cinemas, hospitals, spas, large entertainments areas and hairdressing salons.

The good news, I guess, is that they require a lot of servants, the American career of the future.