Nearly 36 Million Americans
Live In Poverty

By Andrea Hopkins
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Some 1.3 million Americans slid into poverty in 2003 as the ranks of the poor rose 4 percent to 35.9 million, with children and blacks worse off than most, the government said on Thursday in a report that fueled Democratic criticism of President Bush.
Despite the economic recovery, the percentage of the U.S. population living in poverty rose for the third straight year to 12.5 percent -- the highest since 1998 -- from 12.1 percent in 2002, the Census Bureau said in its annual poverty report. The widely cited score card on the nation's economy showed one-third of those in poverty were children.
The number of U.S. residents without health-care coverage rose 1.4 million to 45 million last year, while incomes were essentially stagnant, the Census Bureau said.
The poverty line is set at an annual income of $9,573 or less for an individual, or $18,660 for a family of four with two children. Under that measure, a family would spend about a third of its income on food.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has argued Bush's economic stewardship, including three rounds of tax cuts since 2001, has done more to help wealthy Americans than the poor or middle class.
"Today confirms the failure of President Bush's policies for all Americans," the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. "Under George Bush's watch, America's families are falling further behind."
Analysts have said the poverty rate typically tracks the broad economy, rising during a recession and falling in boom times, and the Bush administration said the report was "looking backwards at the economy" because it did not capture recent job growth or the full benefit of recent tax cuts.
"The first thing to remember is that the number of people living below the poverty line has historically mirrored the rise and fall in the number of people working," Commerce Secretary Don Evans told a conference call. "In June of 2003, when this data was collected, the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent. Now it is down to 5.5. percent."
The United States has struggled to recover from the 2001 slump and job creation has lagged behind overall growth. Since Bush took office in January 2001, 1.1 million jobs have disappeared, but employment has begun to rebound and analysts believe incomes may begin to improve once the job market strengthens.
The poverty rate has risen each year since 2000, when it was 11.3 percent. It hit a record-low 11.1 percent in 1973.
Children and most racial minorities again fared worse in 2003 than the overall population, according to the Census report. The rate of child poverty rose to 17.6 percent from 16.7 percent in 2002 -- boosting the number of poor children to 12.9 million, the most since 1998.
The poverty rate of African-Americans remained nearly twice the national rate, with 24.4 percent of blacks living below the poverty line in 2003, nearly unchanged from 24.1 percent a year earlier. The poverty rate for Hispanics was 22.5 percent, up from 21.8 percent.
Non-Hispanic whites fared best, with a poverty rate of 8.2 percent, nearly unchanged from 8 percent a year earlier.
The report showed real median income for all races was unchanged at $43,318 in 2003. Incomes have fallen nearly 4 percent since 1999.
Democrats criticized the government's decision to release the highly anticipated report in mid-August -- when many people are on vacation -- rather than sticking to the usual September release. They also said the decision to release the health insurance and poverty statistics in the same report was a bid to minimize media coverage of the worsening lives of the poor in the run-up to the November election.
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