Rise in number of American poor

New York, August 31:

The number of Americans living below the poverty line rose for the fourth successive year during 2004, extending the gap between rich and poor in the world’s wealthiest nation. The US census bureau said the number of people living in poverty rose to 37 million, up from 35.9 million in 2003. The percentage in poverty increased from 12.5 per cent to 12.7 per cent.

The latest figures mean that the number of poor Americans has grown every year under the Bush administration, despite an economy that has been growing robustly. They also provide some evidence of the lack of impact the much trumpeted tax cuts have had on the less well off.

Since president Bush won the 2000 election, the number of people living in poverty in the US has grown from 31.1 million — an additional six million people. The number without health insurance also rose again last year, from 45 million to 45.8 million. The figures were published at the same time as a report from the leading labour federation found that increasing numbers of working Americans feel they are being left behind. Out of more than 800 workers, 70 per cent said their standard of living was slipping.

At the other end of the scale, a survey of the biggest US companies by compensation consultancy Pearl Meyer found the average payout for chief executives rose by 13 per cent in 2004 to $10.5 million. Asians were the only ethnic group in the census to show a decline in poverty — from 11.8 per cent in 2003 to 9.8 per cent last year. The largest increase was among non-Hispanic whites, with an 8.6 per cent poverty rate, up from 8.2 per cent in 2003.

The median household income in 2004 was $44,389, flat on the previous year. Asian households earned the most, $57,518, and African Americans the lowest, $30,134.

Sheldon Danziger, co-director of the National Poverty Centre at the University of Michigan, said, “The good news is that poverty is a lot lower than it was in 1993, but we went through a hell of an economic boom. Nobody is predicting we’re going to go through another economic boom like that.” A family of four, with two children, is considered to be living in poverty if its income is $19,157 or less. For a family of two, with no children, the threshold is $12,649.