Census data: good news or bad news?
Wages for working Americans increased, the number of people without health insurance decreased and the poverty rate was essentially unchanged...
WASHINGTON — Wages for working Americans increased, the number of people without health insurance decreased and the poverty rate was essentially unchanged in 2007, according to census figures released Tuesday.
Experts cautioned, however, that the new data don't capture the effects of the economic slump that began late last year.
In 2007, though, median household income rose by 1.3 percent, from $49,568 in 2006 to $50,233. The portion of Americans in poverty increased slightly, from 12.3 percent to 12.5 percent. The number without health coverage fell from 47 million in 2006 to 45.7 million last year. It was the first annual decline in the uninsured population since President Bush took office in 2001.
In Washington state, the median household income rose from $54,149 in 2006 to $55,591 in 2007, an increase of 2.6 percent. Nationwide, among cities with 250,000 or more residents, Seattle ranked seventh in median household income at $57,849 in 2007. Plano, Texas, was tops at $84,492.
The state's poverty rate fell from 11.8 percent in 2006 to 11.4 percent and the proportion of people without health insurance dropped from 12.8 percent to 11.6 percent, census figures showed.
A closer look at the national numbers reveals some troubling trends, including that the inflation-adjusted median income for working-age households was $1,100 lower in 2007 than it was in the recession year of 2001. Last year's poverty rate was also higher than the 11.7 percent rate in 2001.
Experts credit an increase in government-funded coverage for reducing the number of uninsured Americans. The number of people younger than 65 who are publicly insured jumped from 46.3 million to 48.6 million last year, said Lynn Blewett, director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota.
Children accounted for nearly half that increase, as the number of youngsters in government health programs grew from 22.1 million in 2006 to 23 million last year.
"Programs like SCHIP and Medicaid are lifelines for providing Americans with the health care they need," Blewett said.
Most researchers and economists said federal measures are a poor tool to gauge poverty's complexity. The numbers don't factor in assistance from government anti-poverty programs. Alternative poverty measures that account for these shortcomings typically deflate poverty statistics.
Median household income — the level at which half of U.S. households earn more and half less — increased for the third straight year. Men who worked full time saw their median earnings increase nearly 4 percent to $45,113. Median income for full-time working women rose by 5 percent to $35,102.
The poverty rate increased by a small fraction; 816,000 more people lived in poverty in 2007 than in 2006. But the rate and number of children in poverty increased from 17.4 percent, or 12.8 million, in 2006 to 18 percent and 13.3 million last year.
Nationally, children account for nearly 36 percent of Americans in poverty, though they make up only about 25 percent of the population.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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