The nation’s official poverty rate held steady last year, according to annual figures released this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau. And that was greeted as good news by many analysts, who had predicted yet another year of increases in the number of poor Americans suffering the lagging effects of the last recession.

The bureau reported that 15 percent of all Americans lived below the poverty line in 2011—down a fraction from 15.1 percent the year before. That translates to 46.2 million Americans living in poverty—defined as $23,021 a year for a family of four. Among U.S. children, some 16 million—nearly 22 percent—were poor.  And more than a quarter of black and Hispanic Americans remained poor, despite modest improvements in Hispanic poverty rates.

Reflecting the weak economy, median household income edged downward, by 1.5 percent, to $50,054.  After adjusting for inflation, the typical family was earning less last year than it did in the mid-1990s.  And the longstanding trend in income disparities continued, with the “income gap” between the lowest- and highest-earning Americans wider than ever.

In a bit of good news, the government reported that the number of Americans covered by health insurance rose modestly—a result of increases in Medicare and Medicaid, along with employer-provided health insurance, which did not drop last year for the first time in a decade. The improvement also reflects the early impact of the national health reform law, which allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

At Corporate Voices, these findings are an important reminder that employers can play a very real and valuable role in improving the lives of working families. We offer a range of free toolkits and other resources to help you help your employees. By educating workers about tax credits and other benefits they have earned and supporting low-wage workers in managing their work-life balance, employers can help lower-income workers retain more of their paycheck and improve their economic stability.