Mixed report on poverty Census data: Improvements recorded, but income inequality for nonwhites remains high.

October 07, 1998

TWO CHEERS for the recent news from the Census Bureau about the decrease in poverty numbers.

Rah: For the past three years, the number of Americans living in poverty declined, the agency noted. Those in poverty in 1997 totaled 35.6 million, down a little from the previous year, and a decrease of 3.7 million since 1993.

Rah: The rate for African Americans dropped to the lowest level ever recorded, to 9.1 million, or 26.5 percent, from 28.4 percent in 1996 and 33.1 percent in 1993. Median household income was higher last year than at any time in the past 30 years, rising by 4.3 percent to $25,050.

By comparison, the median income of white, non-Hispanic households was $40,000.

The report also showed improvements among Hispanics, whose median household income rose 4.5 percent, to $26,628, and whose poverty rate declined 2.3 percentage points, to 27.1 percent, or 8.3 million people, in 1997 from 8.7 million in 1996.

We withhold the third cheer because the news should have been much better, given the extraordinary performance of the economy in recent years.

The exciting news of great gains across the economic spectrum was tempered by the fact that those very same nonwhites who benefited remain particularly vulnerable to a downturn, which some experts believe the nation is starting to experience.

President Clinton is correct in declaring that the economy is helping more families "work their way out of poverty." But income inequality remains high. Also, the president noted that another record low -- 37 percent of black children living in poverty -- is still a "remarkably high" rate.

Sprinkled throughout the good news in the census report, those nagging caveats stood out. They cannot be ignored or taken lightly.There is reason to be pleased with the progress, but also cause for concern for groups that perpetually seem to be behind.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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