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Whites join slide into poverty as US incomes fall (Read 96 times)
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Whites join slide into poverty as US incomes fall
Sep 26th, 2002 at 3:39am
by Matthew Engel in Washington, The Guardian

The number of US citizens living in poverty has increased for the first time for eight years, according to official figures published yesterday. The census bureau said 32.9m were living below the poverty line, an increase of 1.3m, bringing the total to 11.7% of the population.
Perhaps more tellingly for the White House six weeks before the mid-term elections, the median household income has also fallen, by 2.2%.

The figures are the latest in a series of economic statistics which have ranged from bad to terrible for the Bush administration. Since George Bush entered office 20 months ago the Dow Jones index has fallen by a quarter, wrecking many pension plans, unemployment has risen by a third, and the budget surplus has lurched into deficit.

All these are issues which resound across Middle America, and the president's Democrat opponents are desperate to talk about them in the election campaign, if they can change the subject from Iraq.

"This [information] is a year old, so the reality now is probably worse," Wendell Primus, of the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, said. "If history repeats itself, poverty is likely to keep rising in the recession, with income also falling across the board."

The official poverty line is an annual income of $18,104 (12,400) for a family of four. This is a crude measure, because actual poverty depends heavily on housing costs, which are far higher in the big cities. "The reality would depend very much on rent, which could form 40-50% of that sort of income in a city," Dr Primus said.

"People are not as poor as the Third World, but in places like rural Tennessee the huts are pretty decrepit. At that level there is barely enough for the necessities of life."

Poverty is especially prevelant in parts of Mr Bush's own state, Texas, and a BBC News night programme tonight will reveal the poorest town in the country, on the official figures, to be El Cenizo, near Laredo, on the Texas-Mexico border.

El Cenizo, which has an official population of 3,500, has probably twice that number in reality because of the many illegal migrants in the area awaiting a deal between the US and Mexico to regularise their position.

Francisco Montoya, an odd-job man, told the programme he was existing on about $200 a month plus $150 in food stamps to feed a family of five. "Life is very hard for those of us who don't have access to good jobs," his wife, Fausta, said.

Despite the fierce climate the Montoyas' shack has no air conditioning, no heating and a leaking roof. None the less their car, which does not work, has a tattered US flag on it.

Incomes are still substantially higher than across the border. The quality of life is not necessarily better: El Cerizo has no emergency services. "We are a forgotten city," said the mayor, Flora Barton.

Analysis of the bureau's figures, however, shows that although the poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites is still about a third of those for Hispanic and Black Americans, which remain above 21%, the biggest increase occurred among white families.

The evidence of a growing gap between the richest Americans and the poorest is further electoral ammunition for the Democrats.

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO labour federation, said it was "a shameful commentary on this nation... while executives cut deals to pay themselves millions in perks."

Reproduced from:,12271,799164,00.html
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