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US Poverty Stabilizes in 2005, Incomes Slightly Up


The U.S. Census Bureau says poverty in the United States last year remained unchanged after four consecutive years of increases. The agency's 2005 report also found incomes in the United States rose slightly last year, for the first time since 1999.

The Census Bureau's David Johnson says there was no significant change in the U.S. poverty rate in 2005 from the previous year. "The period following the latest recession was a period of falling income and rising poverty rates. However, after four years of consecutive increases, the poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005, and 37 million people."

According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. median household income was up slightly in 2005 from the year before, to $46,300. The Census Bureau's median figure reflects the point at which half of the more than 71,700 households surveyed make more and half make less.

In its survey for 2005, the Census Bureau used different figures to determine poverty, based on the size of the family. For example, the annual poverty threshold for a family of four was $19,971. For individuals, the figure was $9,973.

The report recognizes four ethnic groups - white, black, Hispanic and Asian households. In 2005, black households had the lowest median income, while Asian households had the highest median income.

It also shows that the northeastern United States has the highest household income, followed by the west and the midwest. Households in the U.S. south had the lowest median incomes.

Another figure that remained unchanged last year was the ratio of female to male earnings. The report says that for every dollar a man made in a full-time job, a woman made 77 cents.

The statistics presented Tuesday come exactly one year after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast. Johnson said they do not completely capture the effects of that storm or Hurricane Rita on overall U.S. poverty figures. "So, it covers the entire calendar period, so those poverty rates only have four months after the hurricanes," he said.

He added that he expects next year's data to provide deeper insights.

The Brookings Institution's Gary Burtless said the figures represent some good news, in that the poverty rate in the United States did not increase. But he took issue with American income distribution, saying people at the very top of the income scale saw significantly higher gains in real income than those at the bottom. "There's just this long-term very skewed distribution of the benefits that have been derived from rising incomes in the United States. As long as that continues, we're going to get many income reports like this one, in which there's very, very, very slow progress in reducing American poverty," he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 report for income and poverty is available on its website,