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The new poor and the almost-poor: Will poverty rate climb more?

Government aid kept some Americans from sliding into poverty last year, some analysts say. The 2009 poverty rate of 14.3 percent is a big one-year leap in the ranks of the poor.

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Call them the newly poor. They are the 4.8 million people in America who last year joined the ranks of people living in poverty – defined as having less than $22,000 in annual income for a family of four. They are people, probably, much like Reginald O'Neal and his family.

Mr. O'Neal and several family members were at the Dekalb County welfare department here on Thursday, trying to get help to turn the electricity back on at their house.

"If you were to see our house, you'd think we were middle class," says the 20-something Atlantan. "But that would be missing the point: Lately, we're poor."

These days, a lot of people are feeling worse off that they used to be. But it's the slice of Americans who hadn't quite reached the middle class, yet who were above the poverty line, that is now feeling poverty biting at their heels. With the US unemployment rate stuck well above 9 percent, it's the folks "just below the middle" who account for much of the hike in the US poverty rate, according to at least one poverty expert.

The Census Bureau reported Thursday that the US poverty rate last year hit 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. Among working Americans, the poverty rate was also the highest its been – 12.9 percent – since 1965.

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