WASHINGTON — The nation’s poverty rate jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010, the highest level since 1993, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, providing vivid new evidence of the country’s inability to escape the lingering effects of the recession.

About 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty last year, marking an increase of 2.6 million over 2009 and the fourth consecutive annual increase in poverty.

The total number of people living below the poverty line – which in 2010 was set at an income of $22,314 for a family of four – has never been higher in the 52 years that the number has been calculated.

About 161,000 Mainers lived in poverty in 2010, according to the census figures. The state’s poverty rate of 12.5 percent was up from 11.4 percent in 2009.

Advocates for low-income people in Maine said the recession and high unemployment have driven the poverty rate up.

Broken down by state, Mississippi had the highest percentage of poor people, at 22.7 percent, according to calculations by the Census Bureau. It was followed by Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Georgia, New Mexico and Arizona. On the other end of the scale, New Hampshire had the lowest percentage, at 6.6 percent, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, another 900,000 Americans lost health insurance last year, pushing the number of uninsured Americans to nearly 50 million, an all-time high. A continued decline in job-based health care helped drive those numbers, McClatchy Newspapers reported.

But the number of uninsured declined slightly in Maine. The census data shows about 121,000 Maine residents, or 9.4 percent, lacked health insurance in 2010, down from the 9.9 percent rate in 2009. The figures show a bigger improvement since 2000, when 10.4 percent of Mainers lacked coverage.

Maine’s improved figures reflect a shift of its insured population from private companies to public programs, said Joseph Bruno, chairman of the Dirigo Health board, which oversees a state program aimed at providing health insurance to those who lack it. The shift accounts for a rise in the number of people who receive MaineCare, the state’s Medicare program, he said.

“While it’s a good thing we have more people insured, when you look at it from a budgetary perspective it’s difficult to sustain,” Bruno said.

Maine’s health insurance rate still puts it among the six states with the highest rates, said Ana Hicks of Maine Equal Justice Partners.

Nationally, the continued increase in poverty was just the latest manifestation of a troubled economy that has left 14 million Americans out of work and caused unemployment to hover above 9 percent for 25 of the past 27 months.

As poverty spiked, median household income declined by 2.3 percent to $49,445 from 2009 to 2010. When inflation is factored in, the typical household now earns less than it did in 1997, a troubling sign of economic stagnation.

The decline in income has been most pronounced among those who earn the least. Overall, median household income has declined by 7.1 percent since peaking in 1999. The bottom 10 percent of earners have seen their income decline by 12.1 percent, while the top 10 percent have experienced a decline of 1.5 percent in that time period, the Census Bureau reported.

The news was particularly bad for blacks, Hispanics, children and women. The poverty rate for Hispanics climbed to 26.6 percent from 25.3 percent, and for blacks it increased to 27.4 percent from 25.8 percent. For whites, the poverty rate in 2010 was 9.9 percent, a half percentage point increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, 12.1 percent of Asian Americans fell below the poverty line in 2010, which was statistically unchanged from 2009.

Among children, the poverty rate climbed to 22 percent. The black child poverty rate climbed to 39 percent, while the Hispanic child poverty rate reached 35 percent. The white child poverty rate was 12.4 percent.

Meanwhile, record numbers of women were living in poverty, according to an analysis of the census data by the National Women’s Law Center. The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest level in 17 years.

More than 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including over 7.5 million in extreme poverty, with an income below half of the federal poverty line.

“Behind today’s grim statistics are real people who are finding it harder than ever to keep a roof over their heads, feed their families, get the health care they need and give their children a chance at a better life,” said Joan Entmacher, the law center’s vice president for Family Economic Security.

The report found that the recession was forcing hard-pressed Americans – particularly the young – to double up in households with relatives and friends.

Among Americans aged 25 to 34, the number of people doubled up in households has increased 25 percent since the recession hit in 2007.

Associated Press Writer Glenn Adams contributed to this report.