empty pocketIt appears economic insecurity among Americans is as rampant as false rumors of Shirley Sherrod's racism. The nation's populace is at its most vulnerable in 25 years, according to a report released late Wednesday. Nearly one in five Americans are estimated to be currently insecure about their financial situation, compared to fewer than about 13% in 1985, according to the report released by Rockefeller Foundation, a New York-based philanthropic organization, and Yale University political science professor Jacob Hacker.

"There is a clear long-term upward trend in the economic insecurity of American families," Hacker said in a statement. "And while economic insecurity is substantially higher for less affluent and educated Americans than for other groups, it has risen across virtually all parts of American society -- it's an issue squarely confronting the American middle class."

The report defines economically insecure Americans as those whose available household income fell by at least 25%, adjusted for inflation, from one year to the next. The causes for the drop could be attributed to declines in household income or a rise in out-of-pocket expenses for medical care. Such households also lack an adequate financial safety net, to help them through periods of unemployment or afford unexpected expenses.

Economic security typically fluctuates with the health of the overall economy, the report noted. As the business cycle picks up, the odds of Americans suffering large drops in income falls. "But this cyclical pattern has been accompanied by a gradual rise in the overall prevalence of economic insecurity in good times as well as in bad," the report said.

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