U.S. Poverty: Bad, But Not as Bad as We Think
The Deseret News recently reported
The nation's real median income rose for the first time since 1999, while the poverty rate remained virtually unchanged at 12.6 percent, marking the end of four consecutive years of increasing poverty, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.
...the fact that poverty rates failed to decline — despite four years of economic growth in Utah and across the country — is of particular concern, Utah anti-poverty advocates said Tuesday. And the number of seniors in poverty rose from 3.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2005, according to the report.
However, the nearly exclusive reason that the poverty rate remained unchanged (didn't go down) is due to the influx of Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, who start out lower on the poverty ladder (who probably weren't considered as living in poverty when they were in their home countries). Investor's Business Daily describes it this way:
Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3%, down slightly from 12.6% in 2005 but higher than the 11.3% in 2000, the recent low. It was also higher than the 11.8% average for the 1970s. So the conventional wisdom seems amply corroborated.
It isn't. Look again at the numbers. In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty. That's the figure that translates into the 12.3% poverty rate. In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5%. The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million). Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.
Consider: From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8%) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2%) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9%) to 9 million (24.3%) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000, but is down over longer periods.
Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty.
The increase among Hispanics must be concentrated among immigrants, legal and illegal, as well as their American-born children. Yet this story goes largely untold.
So yes, it's bad. But it's important to know the why behind the numbers. And it doesn't help matters to exaggerate by improper inference from the numbers.