August 30, 2006

Still Poor In The USA

One in eight Americans in poverty:
IN the world's biggest economy, one in eight Americans and almost one in four blacks lived in poverty last year, the US Census Bureau said today, both ratios virtually unchanged from 2004.

The survey also showed 15.9 per cent of the population, or 46.6 million, had no health insurance, up from 15.6 per cent in 2004 and an increase for a fifth consecutive year, even as the economy grew at a 3.2 per cent clip...

In all, some 37 million Americans, or 12.6 per cent, lived below the poverty line, defined as having an annual income around $US10,000 ($13,200) for an individual or $US20,000 for a family of four.
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that it's the first year since Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate has not increased.

Today's NYT editorial slams Bush for telling reporters, “Things are good for American workers.”
The comment is preposterous. As The Times’s Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt reported yesterday, the economic expansion that began in late 2001 is on track to become the first since World War II that fails to offer a sustained lift to the real wages of most American workers. Although the nation’s economy has grown and productivity has been strong, American employees have not shared in the wealth they’ve helped to create. Wages and salaries now make up the lowest proportion of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.

Until recently, the decline in real wages has been masked in large part by the housing boom that allowed many Americans to borrow and spend, even as their pay was squeezed. But now the housing market is flagging and with it, the Bush-era economy — without American workers having ever experienced a period of solid prosperity.

Unfortunately, there’s little likelihood of meaningful improvement anytime soon. When Mr. Bush and his advisers are not insisting that everything is fine, they’re promising more high-end tax cuts as a cure-all, or painting the problem as one of impersonal market forces for which there are no government solutions.

Those are not the paths out of the predicament. Just the opposite, they are approaches that have contributed to it.
UPDATE: The Carpetbagger points out that Bush wanted to keep the poverty results hidden:
And I'd be remiss if I didn't note the timing of the report's release.

For years, including the first three years of Bush's first term, the Census Bureau released its poverty data in late-September. In election years, that meant the public learned about the number of families in poverty about five weeks before going to the polls. Starting in 2004, the administration moved the release up to August, when Congress is out of session, DC has crawled to a stop, and a lot of journalists (and regular voters) are on vacation.

Moreover, in 2004, the Census Bureau also changed the location of the poverty report's release. Instead of using the traditional National Press Club in downtown DC, where the numbers have been released in years past, officials moved the release to a harder-to-reach office in Suitland, Md.

And just to further raise eyebrows, the poverty numbers used to be released by a career Census official. In 2004, that changed, too — the report was released by the bureau's director, a political appointee of the Bush White House.

To be fair, maybe these changes were innocuous and had nothing to do with softening the report's blow. But it's not as if the administration has earned the benefit of the doubt.
How low can you go? That's the big question facing us all today.


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