Poverty Levels Stabilize; a First in 5 Years

For the first time in five years, the poverty rate in the United States did not increase, according to new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The national poverty level remained steady at 12.6 percent.

The latest figures, which follow four years of economic growth, represent about 37 million people living in poverty, the Census Bureau says.

And while the poverty rate didn't grow, some economists say that, given the country's overall economic good health, the numbers are nothing to celebrate.

The poverty numbers did go down a bit — by about 90,000 people. But the Census Bureau says the decline isn't statistically significant. Household income, on the other hand, went up to a median of $46,326 a year.

The new report also shows that poverty rates continue to be highest among non-whites. And the poverty rate among children remains higher than for 18- to 64-year-olds.

Census Report on U.S. Poverty: Key Findings

The nation's poverty rate was essentially unchanged last year, the first year it hasn't increased since before President Bush took office, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report found 37 million Americans were living under the poverty line last year — about 12.6 percent of the population. That's down from 12.7 percent in 2004, but census officials said the change was statistically insignificant.

The median household income — the point at which half make more and half make less — was $46,300, a slight increase from 2004. However, the number of people without health insurance increased to 46.6 million in 2005. About 45.3 million people were without insurance the year before.

An overview of some of the key findings.

ON POVERTY: There were 37 million people in poverty (12.6 percent) in 2005. Both the number and rate were statistically unchanged from 2004 and marked the end of four consecutive years of increases in the poverty rate (2001-2004).

— There were 7.7 million families in poverty in 2005, statistically unchanged from 2004. The poverty rate for families declined from 10.2 percent in 2004 to 9.9 percent in 2005.

— As defined by the Office of Management and Budget, the average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2005 was $19,971; for a family of three, $15,577; for a family of two, $12,755; and for unrelated individuals, $9,973.

— Poverty rates remained statistically unchanged for blacks (24.9 percent) and Hispanics (21.8 percent). The poverty rate decreased for non-Hispanic whites (8.3 percent in 2005, down from 8.7 percent in 2004) and increased for Asians (11.1 percent in 2005, up from 9.8 percent in 2004).

— The poverty rate in 2005 for children under 18 (17.6 percent) remained higher than that of 18-to-64-year olds (11.1 percent) and that of people 65 and older (10.1 percent). For all three groups, the rate was statistically unchanged from 2004.

— Among the foreign-born population, poverty rates in 2005 were 10.4 percent for foreign-born naturalized citizens and 20.4 percent for those who had not become citizens – both statistically unchanged from 2004.

— Poverty rates in the South (14 percent) and West (12.6 percent) were higher than in the Northeast (11.3 percent) and Midwest (11. 4 percent). Both the poverty rate and the number in poverty remained stable in all regions between 2004 and 2005.

ON HEALTH INSURANCE: The number of people with health insurance coverage increased by 1.4 million to 247.3 million between 2004 and 2005, and the number without such coverage rose by 1.3 million to 46.6 million.

— Between 2004 and 2005, slightly fewer Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance (from 59.8 percent to 59.5 percent).

— The number of uninsured children increased between 2004 and 2005, from 7.9 million to 8.3 million.

— The uninsured rate, as well as the number of uninsured, remained statistically unchanged from 2004 to 2005 for non-Hispanic whites (at 11.3 percent and 22.1 million) and for blacks (at 19.6 percent and 7.2 million). The rate for Asians increased to 17.9 percent in 2005, up from 16.5 percent in 2004. The number of uninsured Asians was 2.3 million, up from 2 million.

— The uninsured rate for Hispanics, who may be of any race, was 32.7 percent in 2005 — statistically unchanged from 2004. The number of uninsured Hispanics increased from 13.5 million to 14.1 million.

— Based on a three-year average (2003-2005), 29.9 percent of people who reported American Indian and Alaska Native as their race were without coverage. The three-year average for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders was 21.8 percent.

— Between 2004 and 2005, the uninsured rate for the population born in the United States increased from 13.1 percent to 13.4 percent. The uninsured rate for the foreign-born population was statistically unchanged at 33.6 percent. The number of uninsured naturalized citizens increased from 2.3 million in 2004 to 2.5 million in 2005. The uninsured rate for naturalized citizens remained statistically unchanged at 17.9 percent. The number and rate for noncitizens also remained statistically unchanged at 9.5 million and 43.6 percent, respectively, in 2005.

— On average, between 2003-2005 Texas (24.6 percent) had the highest percentage of uninsured residents, while Minnesota (8.7 percent) had the lowest.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.