For the second straight year, poverty rose and income levels declined in 2002,
the Census Bureau reported Friday.
Median household income declined 1.1 percent between 2001 and 2002, to $42,409,
after accounting for inflation. (The median means half of all households earned
more than that amount, and half earned less.) Income levels had increased through
most of the 1990s, then went flat in 2000, then fell in each of the last two
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reported that nearly 34.6 million people lived
in poverty in 2002—about 1.7 million more than in the previous year. That
put the poverty rate at 12.1 percent last year, compared to 11.7 percent in
2001. The rate had fallen for much of the 1990s, finally hitting 11.3 percent
in 2000—its lowest level in more than 25 years. It began rising again in
2001 and continued upward in 2002.
The Associated Press quoted Bill Spriggs, director of research and public policy
at the National Urban League, as calling the numbers frightening. "This
may become one of the worst downturns in income in 30 years," he told the
AP. "We see that people are digging themselves deeper into poverty because
the economy is not generating jobs."
Even though the last recession officially ended in November 2001, experts had
predicted increased poverty and lower income for most people in 2002, pointing
to rising unemployment and a still-shaky economy.
Census Bureau statistician Daniel Weinberg said the numbers are consistent
with changes following past recessions. "The highest point in the cycle
of poverty and the lowest point in income tend to come in the year after a recession,"
he said at a news conference.
The Census Bureau traditionally breaks the poverty and income numbers down
according to racial and ethnic groups, but the bureau cautioned that this was
more difficult in 2002 because it was the first time survey respondents could
report whether they belonged to more than one race.
As a result, the poverty rate for those who identified themselves as black
and of another race was 23.9 percent; for those who identified themselves solely
as black, it was 24.1 percent. Both numbers, however, represented a significant
jump from the 2001 poverty rate for blacks, 22.7 percent.
The bureau also reported that:
- Poverty rates remained relatively unchanged for non-Hispanic whites, Asians,
- Median income fell for blacks and Hispanics, but was relatively unchanged
- Income was highest among whites and Asians.
- Incomes declined significantly for foreign-born noncitizens, people living
in metropolitan areas, and for family households.
- The Midwest experienced a significant decline in income, while all other
regions were relatively unchanged.
The poverty threshold differs by the size and makeup of a household. For instance,
a person under 65 living alone in 2002 was considered in poverty if income was
$9,359 or less; for a household of three including one child, it was $14,480.