Despite more jobs, US poverty rate rises
Percentage of Americans in poverty grew for the fourth straight year, the US Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
from the August 31, 2005 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0831/p02s01-usec.html
Despite a year in which the US economy added jobs, the percentage of Americans living in poverty grew from 12.5 to 12.7 percent last year - the fourth straight year it's risen.
That increase, reported in the much-anticipated annual Census Bureau study Tuesday, surprised many analysts who had expected the number to drop along with unemployment.
Political pundits on both sides of the aisle rushed to put their stamp on the news, with Democrats blaming the trend on failed economic policies and Republicans pointing out that some regions and groups improved.
While the overall poverty numbers went up, for instance, the Midwest was the only region that experienced an increase.
Rates for child poverty and the uninsured were unchanged - after experiencing a rise the year before - and most measures of income gap showed no change.
While the means of calculating the statistics have drawn criticism from both the right and the left, many experts see the annual figures as a useful yardstick by which to measure progress over time.
And for some, the lack of long-term improvement is particularly troubling.
"There is still a generation of no progress against poverty," says Sheldon Danziger, codirector of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.
"Somehow, we have to confront the fact that ...
a rising economy no longer lifts all boats."
"America looks like a giant jobs machine still," says Douglas Besharov, director of the American Enterprise Institute's Social and Individual Responsibility Project.
"Sure, it'd be nice if we got out of recessions faster, but this is a very firm base from which to build."
Mr. Besharov and other conservatives point to the fact that over the last several decades, progress has been made on quality-of-life factors such as housing quality and life expectancy of the poor.
And they emphasize that this most recent rise in poverty seems limited to the Midwest.
"It's not uncommon for poverty to go up three or four years after a recession is over," says Kirk Johnson, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
While the number of those in poverty increased by 1.1 million from 2003 to 2004, to a total of 37 million, Asians were the only group whose poverty rate declined, while non-Hispanic whites were the only group to show an increase.
Some analysts say the numbers are particularly troubling not so much for the change they show, but the lack of it - the persistance of relatively high poverty rates over time.
In 2003, for example, despite a spike in child poverty, the percentage of children without health insurance remained steady from the year before.
The US has made fewer strides in reducing poverty, critics say, than other industrialized nations.
England, for example, has been cited for successfully reducing child poverty.
David Brady, a sociology professor at Duke University, says that part of the problem is that the poverty level itself is far too low - that many above the threshold still do not have the means to make ends meet.
He says no president has had the incentive to acknowledge that the level is too low, and the American public has not demanded accountability.
While the world has changed, say critics on both the right and the left, the formula for determining poverty in that world has not.
Critics have assailed the annual figures because they are not adjusted for geographical standards of living, nor do they account for the rising significance of housing, health, and childcare costs.
Among the most contentious elements of the report is whether it accurately reflects the number of uninsured in the US.
Summarized by Copernic Summarizer