Census Bureau Releases Income, Poverty Data

Median household income increased between 1998 and 2000 in six states-- California, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, and New York. But it fell in Alabama, Louisiana, and Washington. During the same period, the poverty rate dropped in 10 states and increased in none, according to U.S. Census data released this week.

The statistics come from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, a sample survey of about 50,000 households nationwide conducted each month for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data reflect conditions during 2000.

Average poverty rates in 1999-2000 ranged from 6.6 percent in Minnesota to 18.7 percent in New Mexico. The government defines poverty as pre-tax income below $17,603 in 2000 for a family of four.

Last year, the poverty rate decreased in Arizona, California, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Nationally, about 31.1 million people were poor according to the government's definition of poverty. The poverty rate fell for the fourth consecutive year, from 11.8 percent in 1999 to 11.3 percent in 2000, the lowest since 1979 and statistically the same as the lowest poverty rate ever recorded--- 11. 1 percent in 1973.

Child poverty rates declined for the third consecutive year but still stood at 16.2 percent in 2000. Children make up 37 percent of the poor but only 26 percent of the total population, said Daniel Weinberg, chief of the Census Bureau's housing and household economic statistics division.

The datawhich didn't account for the recent weakening of the economyindicated that median U.S. household income was $42,148, equal to the highest level ever recorded. Median income refers to the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less.

Hispanic and Black households hit an all-time high in median income of $33,447 and $30,439 respectively.

"People are as well off as they've ever been," Weinberg said.

But the United States still has the highest rates of poverty of any industrialized nation, according to poverty analysts.

Researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan Washington think-tank, cautioned against drawing conclusions on trends in income disparities from the Census data. CBPP analysts said new, more reliable figures based on Internal Revenue Service data show that income gains have been heavily concentrated among high-income households, and that income disparities have widened considerably.

Researchers at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, said the Census data released Tuesday (9/25) showed that while the country was experiencing an economic boom, middle-income America gained no ground in real income, the first time this has happened since 1994.

Lawrence Mishel, EPI's vice president, said the Census data showed household income remained unchanged from 1999 to 2000 despite fast productivity growth and low unemployment. "If middle-income families can't get ahead in a boom, we are likely to see growing hardships as the downturn hits the labor market with full force," Mishel said.

Tags: Economy