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    U.S. poverty rate rises, ranks of poor whites expand

    By Kristin Roberts2 hours, 3 minutes ago

    The U.S. poverty rate rose in 2004 for the fourth year in a row, driven by an increase in poor whites, the government said on Tuesday in a report that White House critics called proof the economic recovery has bypassed most Americans.

    The percentage of the U.S. population living in poverty rose to 12.7 percent from 12.5 percent in 2003, the Census Bureau said in its annual poverty report. The ranks of the poor rose to 37.0 million, as 1.1 million more people slipped into poverty from the previous year, the report said.

    The Bush administration called the 2004 increase "modest" and said the rise was not altogether surprising because poverty rates improve more slowly than unemployment rates or the economy in general after a recession.

    The Census Bureau pointed to a similar lag in poverty-rate improvement after the recession of the early 1990s.

    "We're seeing the same thing today," said Charles Nelson, assistant division chief in the Census' Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division.

    But some economists and critics of the Bush administration's policies said the data was still worse than expected.

    "The economy looks pretty snappy from 30,000 feet, but when you get down and look at how actual working families are doing, they're falling behind year after year," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at Economic Policy Institute.

    "The main reason for that appears to be the fact that the job market has yet to generate the kind of increases in living standards you'd expect at this point," he said.

    According to the Census Bureau report, the average poverty threshold for a family of four was an income of $19,307. It was $15,067 for a family of three, $12,334 for a family of two and $9,645 for individuals.


    The data showed three groups driving changes in poverty in the United States -- whites, Midwesterners and people aged 18 to 64.

    Non-Hispanic whites were the only group that saw its poverty rate rise, hitting 8.6 percent for 2004 compared with 8.2 percent in 2003. The poverty rate declined for Asians and held steady for blacks and Hispanics, the report showed.

    The Midwest was the only region where income declined, down 2.8 percent to $44,657, the report said.

    Nationwide, real median household income totaled $44,389, roughly flat from 2003, the Census Bureau said. Real median household income has crept lower each year since 1999, the data showed.

    Among age groups, the poverty rate increased for those aged 18 to 64 while it declined for people over 64 and held unchanged at 17.8 percent for children, according to the data.

    Democrats pounced on the data as evidence President Bush's policies have not helped middle-class Americans.

    "Today's Census reports confirm that the Bush administration's economic policies have not benefited most working families," said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed (news, bio, voting record), top Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee.

    "Many Americans are feeling the squeeze of thinner paychecks in the face of soaring gas prices and health care costs, but there's no relief in sight from this administration," he said.

    The number of people with insurance coverage rose, as did the number of people without it. That left the percentage of the U.S. population without health insurance coverage unchanged at 15.7 percent in 2004, Census said.

    But Democrats and some health care policy advocates said that flat showing on a percentage basis masked the fact that a larger number of employed people had no health coverage.

    Government health insurance programs covered a higher percentage of people in 2004 than the year prior, while employment-based insurance covered a smaller percentage.

    "Had it not been for these (government) programs, the number of uninsured would have increased even more in each of the past several years," said Kathleen Stoll, Health Policy Director of Families USA, a liberal-leaning policy group.

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