The U.S. poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent in 2009 from 13.2 percent the year before, bringing the percentage of the population living in poverty to the highest level since 1994, as the economic downturn took its toll on jobs, the government said on Thursday.

The Census Bureau said 43.6 million people, or one in seven Americans, lived in poverty last year, up from 39.8 million in 2008. The data paints a picture of rising hardship and declining incomes for many living in the United States, and it hands more bad economic news to Democrats ahead of Nov. 2 congressional elections.

“Our economy plunged into recession almost three years ago on the heels of a financial meltdown and a rapid decline in housing prices,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.


“Last year we saw the depths of the recession, including historic losses in employment not witnessed since the Great Depression,” Obama said. His economic recovery package enacted last year, he said, had helped keep millions from falling into poverty in 2009.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2009 was $21,954, the report said. The Census report relies on cash income and government payments, including unemployment insurance, to measure poverty.

But the data omits other government assistance, such as food stamps and low-income tax credits, that were increased in last year’s economic package.