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Poverty Increases in the U.S.


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Number of People Living in Poverty in U.S. Increases Again


Published: September 26, 2003



For the second straight year, the proportion of Americans living in poverty rose markedly in 2002 while average household incomes declined, the Census Bureau reported today.


The Census Bureau's annual reports on income and poverty provided further evidence of an economy still struggling to recover from a recession that affected large segments of the population, regardless of race, region or class.


Daniel Weinberg, a statistician with the Census Bureau, said the changes from 2001 to 2002 were consistent with changes following past recessions.


"The highest point in the cycle of poverty and the lowest point in income tend to come in the year after a recession," he said today at a news conference at the bureau's headquarters in Suitland, Md.


The poverty rate rose to 12.1 percent in 2002, affecting 34.6 million people, from 11.7 percent in 2001, or 32.9 million people, the bureau said. The number of entire families living below the poverty line increased to 7.2 million last year, or 9.6 percent of all families, from 6.8 million, or 9.2 percent, the previous year.


The census bureau also reported a slight increase in poverty rates for children, though it said the increase was not statistically significant. In 2002, 12.1 million children were in poverty, or 16.7 percent of all individuals younger than 18 years old, up from 11.7 million, or 16.3 percent, the previous year.


Poverty rates remained relatively unchanged for non-Hispanic whites, Asians and Hispanics, the bureau said.


The official poverty levels, updated each year to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index, were $18,392 for a family of four, $14,348 for a family of three, $11,756 for a two-person household and $9,183 for an individual.


The nation's median household money income, adjusted for inflation, declined 1.1 percent, to $42,409 in 2002, the bureau said.


Income declined for all racial and ethnic groups except for non-Hispanic white and Asian households, the Census Bureau said.


Incomes also declined for foreign-born noncitizens.


By region, the Midwest experienced a 2 percent decline in income, while all other regions were relatively unchanged.


The Census Bureau acknowledged that collecting precise measurements according to race this year was more difficult because the bureau allowed respondents to declare themselves of more than one race.


In 2002, for instance, among all respondents who declared themselves black, whether or not they declared a second race, 23.9 percent were in poverty. But for the subcategory who declared themselves only black, 24.1 percent were in poverty, the Census Bureau said.


The bureau's reports may become grist for the campaigns of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, who have been assailing President Bush for the weakness in the economy.


Even before the census data was made public, House Democrats accused the Bush administration of trying to hide bad economic news by releasing the numbers on a Friday rather than earlier in the week when people are not so distracted by the coming weekend and the rush to complete work.


"Sounds like they're trying to bury the numbers where people won't find them," Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, told The Associated Press. "This is another clear example of political manipulation of data by the Bush administration to avoid the glare of public scrutiny about the country's worsening economy."


But Census Bureau officials said the report was originally scheduled for release earlier in the week, but was delayed until today because statisticians asked for more time to process the numbers.

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