The Census Bureau reported Sept. 13 that 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010, the highest number since the government began counting 52 years ago. That works out to be 15.1 percent of the population, the highest proportion since 1993.

Americans are getting poorer.


The Census Bureau reported Sept. 13 that 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010, the highest number since the government began counting 52 years ago. That works out to be 15.1 percent of the population, the highest proportion since 1993.


It isn't just those at the very bottom who are losing ground in the current recession. The feds report that median household income, the best measure of the economic health of the middle class, fell 2.3 percent between 2009 and 2010 to $49,400.


Even for those fully employed, income levels have been stagnant for more than 30 years. The Census Bureau reported that the median income for a male worker, employed full time and year-round, now stands at $47,715. In 1973, that figure was $49,065, in 2010 dollars.


If anything, the poverty numbers understate the difficulty millions of families face. The federal poverty line in 2010 was $22,313 for a family of four. Try surviving on that in a high-cost city. A 2003 study found that it took more than $51,000 for a single parent with two small children to survive in Boston without government help.


This trend didn't start with the recent recession, though it has certainly gotten worse because of it. Well-paid jobs, particularly in manufacturing, have been disappearing for decades, lost to technological advances and sent overseas. Even union jobs don't pay what they once did, as "two-tier" contracts sharply reduce the pay and benefits of new hires.


No wonder pollsters find Americans less likely to agree that their children will be better off, a confidence in the future that for generations has been a hallmark of American optimism.


These numbers have special significance to the current debate in our nation's capital. Every politician promises "job creation," but few talk enough about what kind of jobs they'll help create and what those jobs will pay.


With some Republican presidential candidates pushing the repeal of the minimum wage and many working to disarm unions, it seems one faction in our national debate has decided that the key to economic recovery is lower wages and fewer benefits.


Nothing could be further from the truth. As American families grow poorer, so does the country.


-- The MetroWest Daily News (Mass.)