Poverty Rate Reflects Stalled Economy, Experts Say

The U.S. Census Bureau reports real median household income rose slightly last year, and the official poverty rate stayed roughly the same as in the previous survey. The share of people without health insurance dropped slightly, as well. Some budget experts say the numbers demonstrate that the economy has stopped expanding.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And more Americans are living in poverty - or were last year, according to the Census Bureau. NPR's Libby Lewis has some details.

LIBBY LEWIS: The number of children living in poverty jumped by half a million to 13.3 million last year. Overall, the number of people living in poverty increased by 816,000 people to more than 37 million. Hispanics and immigrants figured into that rise. And the number of families in poverty headed by women continued to grow.

Meanwhile, economists said the economic downturn could mean a worse poverty picture for 2008. Desmond Lachman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. DESMOND LACHMAN (American Enterprise Institute): The economy is being subjected right now to a variety of shocks of a very big magnitude that are showing no sign of abating.

LEWIS: The poverty figures are based on an official definition of poverty that more and more people say needs revamping. Now the nation defines poverty mostly on the basis of food costs and income levels. It doesn't take into account housing and utility costs or geographical differences in the cost of living. Congress is considering proposals to revamp the definition to get a better grip on poverty.

There was some good news on health insurance. The number of children lacking health insurance declined in 2007, mostly because of an expansion of federally subsidized insurance. And the overall number of Americans with insurance rose, mostly because of an increase in people covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Libby Lewis, NPR News.

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