The Census Bureau, which has expanded its definition of poverty, has calculated that 15.7% of Americans, many of them elderly, are poor and struggling because of rising medical costs and other expenses.
In 2009, the bureau reported, there were 47.8 million people living in poverty.
The figure, released Wednesday, comes with the debut of a different way of measuring the nation's poor. The method was adopted by the bureau this year to serve as a supplement to the method used for decades.
Census researchers say the figures released Wednesday are part of an evolution of how poverty is evaluated by population researchers. By including previously unconsidered factors — such as family and medical expenses, as well as government subsidies — a more elaborate picture of poverty can be drawn.
The definition of poverty for families can vary, but generally ranges from $21,000 to $25,000 annually.
Kathleen S. Short, a Census Bureau researcher and the report's author, wrote that the "new group of poor would consist of a larger population of elderly people, working families and married-couple families than are identified in the official poverty measure."
Wednesday's report follows the September announcement of a 14.3% poverty rate that was figured using a method developed in the 1960s. But researchers say the higher figure released Wednesday does not mean that the rate has jumped since September; the two figures were found using separate equations.
Researchers said that people older than 65 and younger than 15 accounted for this rate of poverty being higher than previous findings. Wednesday's report said that 18% of children and 16.1% of the elderly live in poverty.