Census: Poverty Lowest in 21 Years

Wednesday, September 27th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The poverty rate in America dipped last year to 11.8 percent, the lowest point in 21 years, while median household incomes reached a record high, new Census Bureau data showed Tuesday.

Last year, 32.2 million Americans lived in poverty, down from 34.4 million, or 12.7 percent, the previous year, according to the agency's annual reports on income and poverty. The all-time low poverty rate was 11.1 percent in 1973.

In addition, the percentage of children in poverty fell to 16.9 percent, also the lowest figure since 1979.

Accounting for inflation, the median household income level rose 2.7 percent to $40,816 last year, a record high since the Census Bureau began collecting the data in 1967.

With six weeks before the election, both Democrats and Republicans were quick to take credit for the good news.

President Clinton called it ``another economic milestone'' for the administration, while House GOP leaders cited their own leadership on passing welfare reform as the reason.

``God bless the economy,'' said Tim Smeeding, professor of economics and public policy at Syracuse University. ``Overall, this is the best report I've seen in 20 years.''

Others stressed that more work needs to be done.

``Our concern is that there not be a view out there that poverty has been eradicated,'' said Debra Roth, spokeswoman for the National Association of Community Action Agencies. ``Our main concern is how many people who have climbed out of poverty who work two or three jobs.''

The average poverty threshold for a family of four in 1999 was $17,029 in annual income; for a family of three, it was $13,290. Therefore, a family making less than those amounts would be considered in poverty.

Every racial and ethnic group experienced a drop in both the number of poor and the percent in poverty, as did children, the elderly and people ages 25 to 44, said Census Bureau analyst Daniel Weinberg.

The poverty rate for Americans age 18 and under declined 2 percent between 1998 and 1999 to 16.9 percent. The poverty rate for Americans 65 and older decreased from 10.5 percent to a record-low 9.7 percent last year.

Except for whites, the poverty rates for the nation's major racial and ethnic groups set or equaled historic lows, the Census Bureau said:

—African-Americans, 23.6 percent.

—Hispanics (can be of any race), 22.8 percent.

—Asian and Pacific Islanders, 10.7 percent.

—Non-Hispanic whites, 7.7 percent.

The median household incomes among the major racial and ethnic groups were:

—African-Americans, $27,910.

—Hispanics, $30,735.

—Asian and Pacific Islanders, $51,205.

—Non-Hispanic whites, $44,366.

Median income was also up in central cities, areas that in general have experienced the slowest growth in recent years.

Within central cities, median income rose 5 percent to $35,573 from 1998 to 1999. In metropolitan areas, median income rose 2.1 percent to $42,785. Median income for households in suburbs and outside metropolitan areas remained statistically unchanged from 1998 to 1999.

``Declines in poverty were concentrated in metropolitan areas, particularly central cities. And, on the income side, this was the fifth consecutive year that households experienced a real annual increase in income,'' said Weinberg of the Census Bureau.

``This is a good day for America,'' Clinton said, addressing staffers of the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisers. ``We have proved that we can lift all boats in a modern, global, information-based economy.''

Said Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., a member of the House Ways and Means Committee: ``These exciting developments are the direct result of the welfare reform law Republicans wrote and finally pushed into law in 1996.'' He said that without welfare reform, there would be ``more children in poverty and more adults getting a welfare check instead of a paycheck.''

Though median income went up across all classes, advocates voiced concern that the gap between the rich and poor was growing larger. The top 20 percent of earners accounted for 49.4 percent of total income in 1999, up 0.2 percent from the previous year. The top 5 percent of earners accounted for 21.5 percent of total income, up 0.1 percent from 1998.

``The rich are getting richer, but the poor are getting richer, too,'' Smeeding said.


On the Net: Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov

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