- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Poverty rose for the fourth consecutive year, to 12.7 percent, while median household income stayed statistically the same at about $44,400, the Census Bureau said yesterday.

Overall, the nation’s 2004 economic scorecard shows it is still shaking off the effects of the 2001 recession and the September 11 terror attacks, census officials said.

“It’s not uncommon to have several years of rising poverty rates after a recession,” said Charles Nelson, the Census Bureau’s assistant division chief for income, poverty and health statistics.

In 2000, the poverty rate was 11.3 percent — a rate not seen since the 1970s — but since 2001, it has risen slowly each year. Between 2003 and 2004, the rate rose from 12.5 percent to 12.7 percent, which translates into 1 million more people living in poverty.

A bright spot was the decline in number of senior citizens living in poverty. In 2004, this fell to 9.8 percent, which is almost a record low, census officials said.

Also, the number of children who live in poverty or lack medical insurance remained unchanged, at 17.8 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively.

This indicates that virtually all the increase in poverty occurred among the working-age adult population, Mr. Nelson said.

The definition of poverty differs with the size of a household. For example, a family of four was counted as poor last year if its income was $19,307 or less.

Median household income, meanwhile, stood at $44,389, when adjusted for inflation. This is statistically unchanged from $44,482 in 2003.

“Labor-market slump” is a key factor behind the stagnant income and poverty increases, said Jared Bernstein and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute.

Although economic growth has created 2 million jobs, they said, this still isn’t fast enough “to absorb the labor market slack left over from the longest jobless recovery on record.”

Among racial and ethnic groups, blacks had the lowest median income ($30,100) and Asians the highest ($57,500). Median income refers to the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less.

Regionally, the Northeast and the West had the highest median incomes, with $47,994 and $47,680, respectively, followed by the Midwest with $44,657 and the South with $40,773.

But the Midwest was the only region to experience the “double whammy” of declining income and rising poverty — probably because of manufacturing losses, said Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins.

However, there was good news for the District and its metro areas from the bureau’s new American Community Survey (ACS): Of all U.S. counties with 250,000 people or more, Fairfax County is the wealthiest, with a median household income of $88,133 in 2004.

Montgomery and Howard counties made the “top five,” with household incomes of $82,971 and $82,065, respectively, said the ACS, which was fully implemented this year.

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