Household income rises for first time in 6 years Census Bureau report finds record low poverty among blacks, elderly

September 27, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Household income rose in 1995 for the first time in six years, the Census Bureau reported yesterday, as the number of poor people in the United States dropped by more than 1.6 million, reaching historic lows for blacks and the elderly.

The bureau said half the households in the country had incomes of at least $34,074, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year.

The inflation-adjusted increase of $898 was the first rise in

median household income since 1989, the year before the nation's last recession. It was the largest increase in household earnings since 1986.

At the same time, the percentage of the nation's poor people dropped to 13.8, from 14.5 in 1994. It was the second consecutive year of a decline in the poverty rate.

The report said that 29.3 percent of blacks in the United States lived below the poverty line in 1995. For the first time since 1959, when the Census Bureau started keeping such statistics -- and probably the first time in the nation's history -- the poverty rate for African-Americans dipped below 30 percent.

Also for the first time, the poverty rate for the nation's elderly last year dropped below that of working-age people, making those 65 and older the group with the lowest percentage of poor people.

The Clinton administration seized on the relatively rosy news contained in the report to praise its economic record. "Today it is clear that more and more of our people are sharing in that prosperity," President Clinton said. "We are growing -- and growing together."

LTC Much of the rise in household incomes was in the Midwest, a crucial region in the presidential campaign.

But Bob Dole, Clinton's Republican challenger, seized on some less encouraging news in the report: its finding that while household income has increased, earnings for both male and female full-time workers declined. This indicated that more people are working in a household or that wage earners are working at more than one job.

Dole said the bureau figures did not reflect the economic anxiety of Americans. He maintained that the rise in household incomes stemmed primarily from more people working per household, rather than an increase in individual wages for full-time workers.

John Mueller, an economist and former aide to Jack Kemp, Dole's running mate, said: "President Clinton obviously is going to make the most he can with these figures in comparison with other administrations.

"But if you compare the number of people who have gotten employment and the number of jobs created, there are four new jobs for every three additional workers employed."

And Nelson Warfield, the Dole campaign spokesman, said, "These cold economic statistics may please Bill Clinton, but they do nothing to comfort a homemaker trying to buy groceries or a wage earner worried about the next paycheck."

The improvements in household income and poverty rates were concentrated in the Midwest, a region that underwent a wrenching economic downturn in the early 1980s as such industries as steel and automobile manufacturing were downsized.

Median household income increased by 7.2 percent in the Midwest, but it rose only slightly in the Northeast, the South and the West.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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