- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thirty-eight states had double-digit percentages of people living in poverty in 2003, according to census data released yesterday.

However, almost half the country — 21 states and the District — had incomes at or higher than the 2003 national average of $43,318.

The new data come from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, which assess poverty and income on state and county levels.

The U.S. poverty rate in 2003 was 12.5 percent, up from 12.1 percent in 2002. About 34.5 million people, including 12.8 million children under age 18, lived in poverty in 2003. The Census Bureau’s poverty threshold for 2003 considered a family of four with $18,810 or less in income to be poor.

Mississippi had the most poor people, with 18.3 percent of its population living at or below the poverty line.

New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate, 6.4 percent, and 11 other states, including Maryland and Virginia, had poverty rates of less than 10 percent.

Ironically, although poverty has ticked up in recent years, welfare rolls have continued to decline, falling from 5.1 million persons in March 2002 to 4.9 million in March 2003.

There are several reasons why only 14 percent of the nation’s poor enroll in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program, researchers say.

“Many poor people are not eligible for benefits,” said Urban Institute analyst Sheila Zedlewski.

First of all, TANF is not available to poor people unless they have minor children, she said. Then, many families have cars or income levels that disqualify them from TANF, while other families are excluded because they have exceeded time limits or broken program rules. Still other poor families “choose not to participate” in welfare-to-work programs owing to the “hassle” of following the rules in exchange for a few hundred dollars a month, she said.

On Capitol Hill, the House has passed a renewal of welfare reform in its massive budget bill. The Senate, however, didn’t include it in its budget bill and heavy lobbying is under way on whether lawmakers should keep all — or any — welfare-reform issues in the bill.

Yesterday’s census report showed that East Coast states have the highest wage earners. Connecticut topped the list, with a median household income of $56,409. New Jersey was second with $56,356, followed by Maryland ($54,302), Massachusetts ($52,713) and New Hampshire ($52,409).

Mississippi had the lowest income at $32,397, followed by West Virginia ($32,967), Arkansas ($33,445), Louisiana ($33,792) and Montana ($34,449).

Among counties, Los Alamos County in New Mexico had the highest median income, at $93,089, followed by Douglas County in Colorado ($92,732) and Loudoun County in Virginia ($89,890). Buffalo County in South Dakota, home of the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, had the lowest median income, at $17,003.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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