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More Americans living in poverty

WASHINGTON — Poverty increased for the second consecutive year in 2002, with 1.7 million more Americans dropping below the poverty line, the Census Bureau reported Friday.

Incomes were down, as well — fresh evidence of the struggling economy’s effect on Americans’ pocketbooks.

The poverty rate was 12.1 percent last year, up from 11.7 percent in 2001. The new rate means nearly 34.6 million people were living in poverty in 2002.

Also last year, median household income declined 1.1 percent between 2001 and 2002 to $42,409, after accounting for inflation. The figure means that half of all households earned more than $42,409, and half earned less.

Before 2001, poverty had fallen for nearly a decade to 11.3 percent in 2000 — the lowest level in more than 25 years. Income levels had increased through most of the 1990s, then were flat in 2000.

Census Bureau estimates show that poverty increased significantly for several segments of the population that could be crucial in the 2004 presidential election — blacks, married couples, suburbanites and people in the Midwest.

“Everyone’s taking a bump down — and you haven’t seen the worst of it,” said Syracuse University economist Tim Smeeding.

Daniel Weinberg, who oversees the bureau’s housing and household economic statistics, disagreed. He said the trends between 2001 and 2002 were consistent with changes following former recessions.

With President Bush experiencing lower approval ratings 13 months before the next election, White House aides yesterday called for passage of virtually his entire domestic agenda — from increased involvement in federal programs by religious groups, to legislation limiting personal-injury lawsuits.

“The economy is moving in the right direction,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. “But the president is not satisfied. … It’s important to create the conditions for job growth, and that’s why the president continues to say that there’s more that we can do.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the tax cuts that had been pushed by Bush have not been creating jobs.

“It has only created obstacles for Americans working hard to get ahead,” Pelosi said.

The latest estimates are the government’s official measures based on a survey of 78,000 households taken each March. The average poverty threshold for a family of four was $18,392 in annual income in 2002.

Last year, 12.1 million children lived in poverty –16.7 percent of all kids — up from 11.7 million, or 16.3 percent, in 2001. Of the 400,000 additional poor children, more than half were Latino, according to an analysis by the Children’s Defense Fund.


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