A protester in New York City last September
  • Sasha Y. Kimel
  • A protester in New York City last September

The Census Bureau releases its poverty stats for 2011 tomorrow morning, and they’ll likely show the nation’s poverty rate to have reached its highest level in 46 years.

The poverty rate has climbed the last four years, from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15.1 in 2010. The 2010 rate was the highest since 1993, when it was also 15.1. Poverty experts I’ve spoken with think the rate announced tomorrow may be as high as 15.4. That would be the highest since 1965, when it was 17.3.

The current poverty line is $11,344 for an individual, and $22,350 for a family of four.

Poverty rates have been calculated by the Census Bureau annually since 1959. That year, 22.4 percent of the nation was living in poverty. Largely because of antipoverty programs created in the 1960s, the rate was more than halved by 1973, when it was 11.1. Ronald Reagan’s glib assertion in 1987 that “In the sixties, we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won” was wrong; it’s more accurate to say that we briefly fought poverty, poverty was losing, and we quit.