News Release

More Poverty in U.S.


The Census Bureau today released its annual report “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States.” The following analysts are available for interviews:

Boushey is an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research and co-author of the report “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families.” She said today: “Changes in household income and poverty rates are directly related to the performance of the labor market because wages and salaries comprise about three-quarters of total family income. Health insurance is also directly tied to employment as most Americans get their health insurance from an employer. Although the most recent recession had been officially over for more than a year at the beginning of 2003, the labor market had not yet recovered: millions remained out of work and wage growth slowed to a crawl, turning negative in the second half of 2003.”

Boushey added: “This poor labor market performance in 2003 is reflected in the newly released data on income, poverty, and health insurance. Median household income did not grow over 2003, compared to 2002. Median household income is now $1,604 less than it was in 1999 (in inflation-adjusted dollars). The share of income going to the bottom 20 percent of households fell from 3.5 percent to 3.4 percent of total household income. There were 1.3 million more people in poverty in 2003 as the poverty rate increased for the fourth year in a row. Poverty rose by 0.4 percentage points between 2002 and 2003, up to 12.5 percent. Poverty rose more so for children than for the population overall, rising from 16.7 percent to 17.6 percent. The share of Americans with health insurance coverage at any point during the year fell again this year, from 84.8 percent in 2002 down to 84.4 percent in 2003. Health insurance coverage fell mostly because the share of Americans who had employer-based coverage at some point during the year declined between 2002 and 2003, falling from 61.3 percent down to 60.4 percent. While Medicaid coverage rose, it was insufficient to offset declining employer-based coverage.”

More Information

Author of the book Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, Hays is professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. She said today: “In considering poverty in America, focusing one’s attention on the annual accountings offered by the U.S. Census Bureau is, at best, myopic. As Census researchers are well aware, these statistics are based on long-outdated yardsticks. Does anyone actually believe that a poverty rate pegged to the price of tomatoes and potatoes accurately captures the position of low-income Americans today? Does it make any sense to talk about economic ‘well being’ without considering the impact of housing and childcare costs, health insurance benefits, or financial assets? To celebrate or mourn a percentage point change in the number of Americans officially deemed ‘poor’ is to ignore the larger issues hiding behind those numbers. What we need to talk about is the overall decline in the position of all low-income Americans today — the decrease in real wages, the growing ranks of working poor and desperately poor, increasing tax cuts for the rich, the trends toward global outsourcing and workplace ‘restructuring,’ the deepening inadequacies in the safety nets for unemployed workers and poor parents and children, and the feminization, racialization, and juvenilization of poverty. In reading the latest Census report, we might also ask ourselves why the land of the free and the home of the brave so steadfastly retains its noteworthy position as the Western industrialized nation with the largest gap between rich and poor.”