MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
After four years of economic growth, the poverty rate in this country held steady last year at 12.6 percent. That's about 37 million people living in poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau said today. And while the poverty rate did not grow, some economists say that given the country's overall economic good health, the numbers are nothing to celebrate.
NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
The poverty numbers did go down a bit, by about 90,000 people, but the Census Bureau said that decline wasn't statistically significant. While many economists say the poverty numbers are reason for concern, some experts say after four years, the momentum may have shifted.
Mr. RON HASKINS (Brookings Institution): At least we're not digging a deeper hole.
MARTIN: Ron Haskins is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to President Bush on welfare policy. He says the stagnant poverty rate is caused in part by the fact that there are still too many people on welfare.
Mr. HASKINS: I think these data emphasize the importance of employment and especially employment among low income families. Public benefits are not going to have an impact on poverty rates. It's employment that's the key.
MARTIN: But other experts are far more concerned.
Ms. REBECCA BLANK (University of Michigan): This is historically unprecedented.
MARTIN: Rebecca Blank is the dean of the School of Public Policy and an economist at the University of Michigan. She says it has taken much longer than expected for the poverty rate to bounce back considering the country's recent economic recovery.
Ms. BLANK: It's very surprising last year that it still rose. It's equally surprising this year that it was stable without declining. We've not since 1960, which is when we really start having official poverty data, ever had an economic expansion where by the fourth year you weren't seeing some pretty healthy declines in poverty.
MARTIN: Blank says some of the stagnancy can be blamed on systemic shifts in the job market towards high technology that have left many lower-income, lower-skilled workers out in the cold and kept them there.
Ms. BLANK: We need to be very mindful of what effects those are having on different groups in the economy and that they really are benefiting higher paid and higher skilled workers and doing everything we can to try to translate shifts down.
MARTIN: The report out today also shows that the poverty rates continue to be highest among non-whites, and the poverty rate among children remains higher than for 18- to 64-year-olds.
Rachel Martin, NPR News.
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