Income down, poverty up

A report released by the Census Bureau on Sept. 26 says 34.6 million people in the United States live at or below the poverty line, an increase of 1.7 million in 2002. More than 14 million people live in severe poverty, defined as those with incomes below half of the poverty threshold of $18,392 for a family of four and $9,183 for individuals.

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) says the number of poor children increased by 400,000 and now stands at more than 12 million, with nearly all of the increases occurring among Black and Latino children. More than 3.5 million seniors continue to live in poverty.

Marian Wright Edelman, CDF president said, “This nation does not have a money problem. It has a values and priorities problem,” adding: “The money George W. Bush has requested to rebuild Iraqi sewers is enough to pay for the Child Tax Credit to help alleviate poverty among children in low-income families who were left out of the 2003 tax cut law.” The Bush administration’s 2003 tax cut left behind families making the minimum wage, including one million children living in military families.

The Census Bureau said that median family income fell $500 to $42,400 in 2002, while per capita income declined for the first time since 1991. Poverty in the Midwest, which has borne the brunt of the 37-month decline in manufacturing jobs, rose to 10.3 percent from 9.4 percent a year earlier. Real median income declined 2 percent in the region, with drops in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, all important battleground states in next year’s presidential election. The poverty rate among African Americans jumped to 24.1 percent, nearly 1.5 percentage points above year-earlier levels while median incomes for Black families declined 3 percent. Other racial and ethnic groups also saw significant decreases in median income, which declined 4.5 percent for Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and 2.9 percent for Hispanics.

As controversial as the data was the timing of its release. Typically the results of the annual survey have been released on a Tuesday in late September at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. This year the bureau scheduled the release for a Friday, the first time it has done so, and moved the news conference from the centrally located press club to the bureau’s suburban headquarters in Suitland, Md. The switch prompted advocates and some lawmakers to speculate that the bureau had been pressured by the White House to move the date and place so that that the results, which most people expected to be worse than they were last year, would generate less attention in the weekend news cycle.

The effect of the move meant that the figures on poverty and income were released on the same day as data claiming that gross domestic product had grown by 3 percent in the second quarter of 2003.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com