The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.
Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.
The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest since 1965.
Demographers also say:
—Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels — 15 percent to 16 percent — will last at least until 2014, due to expiring unemployment benefits, a jobless rate persistently above 6 percent and weak wage growth.
—Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again in 2011.
—Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.
—Poverty among people 65 and older will remain at historically low levels, buoyed by Social Security cash payments.
—Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.