Few seeing economic upturns
Even as the economy shows signs of improvement and poverty levels off, new U.S. census data suggests the gains are halting and uneven. Depending on education, race, income and even marriage, not all segments of the population are seeing an economic turnaround.
Poverty is on the rise in single-mother families. More people are falling into the lowest-income group. And after earlier signs of increased mobility, fewer people are moving as homeownership declined for a fifth straight year.
The annual U.S. survey of socioeconomic indicators covers all of last year, representing the third year of a post-recession rebound.
The figures, released Thursday, also show a slightly faster pace of growth in the foreign-born population, which increased to 40.8 million, or 13 percent of the U.S. Last year’s immigration increase of 440,000 people was a reversal of a 2011 dip in the influx, when many Mexicans already in the U.S. opted to return home.
Many of the newer immigrants are now higher-skilled workers from Asian countries such as China and India. The number of immigrants in the U.S. with less than a high school diploma, who make up the bulk of the total foreign-born population, fell slightly in 2012 to 10.8 million. Immigrants with bachelor’s degrees or higher rose by more than 4 percent to 9.8 million.
In all, 21 states saw declines last year in their Hispanic foreign-born population, led by New Mexico, Illinois and Georgia.
The number of Americans in poverty remained largely unchanged at a record 46.5 million. Single-mother families in poverty increased for the fourth straight year to 4.1 million, or 41.5 percent, coinciding with longer-term trends of declining marriage and out-of-wedlock births. Many of these mothers are low income with low education. The share of married-couple families in poverty remained unchanged at 2.1 million, or 8.7 percent.
By race or ethnicity, a growing proportion of poor children are Hispanic, a record 37 percent of the total. Whites make up 30 percent, blacks 26 percent.
Nearly 2.2 million children were poor in California last year, the most of any state, but the child poverty rate was highest in Mississippi, where more than 1 in 3 children was poor. Nationwide, child poverty stood at 21.8 percent, unchanged from the previous year.
The numbers also reflect widening economic inequality, an issue President Barack Obama has pledged would be a top priority of his administration to address. Upward mobility in the U.S. has been hurt by a tight job market and the longer-term disappearance of midskill jobs due to globalization and automation.
The new census data shows that lower-income households are a steadily increasing share of the population, while middle- to higher-income groups shrank or were flat.
With poverty remaining high, food stamp use continued to climb. Roughly 15.8 million, or 13.6 percent of U.S. households, received food stamps, the highest level on record. Just over half of these households, or 52 percent, were below poverty and 44 percent had one or more people with a disability.
By state, Oregon led the nation in food stamp use at 20.1 percent, or 1 in 5, due in part to generous state provisions that expand food stamp eligibility to families. Oregon was followed by more rural or more economically hard-hit states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan and Tennessee. Wyoming had the fewest households on food stamps, at 7 percent.
In 45 states and the District of Columbia, poverty rates remained steady at high levels. Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation, was one of just three states posting increases, from 22.6 percent to 24.2 percent. California and New Hampshire were the others.
The official poverty level is based on a government calculation that includes only income before tax deductions. It excludes noncash government aid such as food stamps. Counting food stamps would have boosted 4 million people, lowering the U.S. poverty rate to 13.7 percent.
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