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US poverty rate declines significantly for first time since 2000

US poverty rate declines significantly for first time since 2000

The poverty rate dropped in the United States last year, the first significant decline since President George W. Bush took office almost seven years ago.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent, lived in poverty last year. That was down from 12.6 percent in 2005.
The median household income was $48,200 (euro35,275), a slight increase from the previous year. At the same time, the number of people without health insurance also increased, to 47 million.
The poverty report comes five years into an uneven economic recovery and well into a presidential campaign that still has 14 months to go.
Poverty has not been a big issue in the campaign, and political scientists said they doubted the new numbers would change that.
"The poor are politically mute," said Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. "What rational politician would listen to the poor? They don't vote, they don't write checks; why care?"
The last significant decline in the poverty rate came in 2000, during the administration of President Bill Clinton. In 2005, the poverty rate dipped from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent, but Census officials said that change was statistically insignificant.
The improved poverty numbers are good economic news at a time when financial markets have been rattled by a slumping housing market. However, the numbers released Tuesday represent economic conditions from a year ago.
The poverty level is the official measure used to decide eligibility for federal health, housing, nutrition and child care benefits. It differs by family size and composition. For a family of four with two children, for example, the poverty level is $20,444 (euro14,962). The poverty rate, or the percentage of people living below the poverty level, helps shape the debate on the health of the nation's economy.
The figures were released at a news conference by David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division.
In the political campaign, Democrat John Edwards has made fighting poverty a centerpiece of his effort. But, political scientist Jacobs noted, "He's struggling to raise money, and he's lagging in the polls."
Evelyn Brodkin, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said she expects the rising number of people without insurance to get more attention in the campaign.
The share of Americans without health insurance hit 15.8 percent last year, up from 15.3 percent the previous year.
"It affects people in the middle, and it affects corporations," Brodkin said. "Especially those who compete globally, they are really hurting because they have to compete with companies that don't have huge health insurance bills for their labor force."


Updated : 2021-04-14 00:58 GMT+08:00