May 15, 2002

Census Shows Bigger Houses and Incomes, but Not for All


WASHINGTON, May 14 — The celebrated prosperity of the 1990's brought a surge in the size and values of homes and in family incomes, according to new Census Bureau statistics covering 13 states, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Washington and Wisconsin. Many more Americans earned college and graduate degrees, and the incomes of the elderly jumped about 60 percent.

But the data, covering 75 million people, or more than a quarter of the United States population, indicate that the decade's prosperity bypassed many Americans.

The poor gained little. Following the overhaul of the welfare system six years ago, poverty among single mothers with young children declined. But poverty among all families remained largely unchanged from its 1980 and 1990 levels, an average of 8 percent in the 13 states. To be deemed poor, a family of four in 2000 had an income less than $17,600.

Most women's incomes rose in the decade, but men's stagnated or fell.

"Some people did really well," said Annabel Kirschner, chairwoman of the department of rural sociology at Washington State University in Pullman. "Other people did not." Along with the poor, she said, unskilled workers fared poorly, with wages failing to keep up with the rate of inflation.

The demographic shifts disclosed today show up in the Census Bureau's so-called long form, a list of 53 questions that about one in six households nationwide filled out to supplement the less detailed Census 2000 short form, the results of which were published last year. The long form treats many issues the other did not, like income, education, home value, ancestry and divorce.

Today the bureau released long-form data for Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, Montana, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Last week it released data for Mississippi, Nevada and Washington. Data for other states will be released over the next three weeks. New York's and New Jersey's are due on Monday.

According to the data covering the 13 states, the typical home grew in size to 5.3 rooms, from 5.1 rooms. The numbers of married people declined. The numbers of divorced people rose 30 percent, to nearly five million. Median home values surged past $100,000 in all but Mississippi and the Dakotas. Million-dollar homes sprang up around all major cities. Immigration, which the long form broke down into richer detail about origin and current residency than the first report, reached levels that altered the character of cities.

"In round numbers, two-thirds of our population growth in the 1990's was foreign-born, and two-thirds of that was Hispanic," said Max Dieber, director of research services at the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission in Chicago.

In California, a longstanding immigration trend reversed course. The number of people moving to the state from other countries and elsewhere in the United States slowed sharply, said Andrew Reppenstein, a demographer at the state census data center in Sacramento. "California is again a state where a majority of the residents were born in the state," Mr. Reppenstein said.

The statistics do not differentiate the decade's biggest winners — people with large stock market gains and million-dollar salaries — from those who were struggling just above the poverty line. Reports to be released in the fall should clarify those distinctions, but analysts today said there was little doubt that working-class Americans saw few gains for themselves.

Government programs moved low-skilled workers away from dying industries and into manufacturing jobs in new technology industries, said George Hough, demographer at the Center for Population Research and Census at Portland State University. But he said those new jobs typically paid an average of $15,000 a year. "That puts them above the poverty line," Mr. Hough said. "But what's $15,000 going to get you?"

A wide gap between the incomes of working men and women narrowed in the 1990's, the statistics show. Women's earnings rose in all 13 states except Alaska. But stagnant and declining men's wages contributed to the narrowing, too.

"This is an irritation for both groups," said Andrew Beveridge, a demographer and sociology professor at Queens College and a consultant to The New York Times, who compared 1990's and 1980's data.

Demographers and sociologists explain that many men lost high-paid industrial and mining jobs in the 1990's. In Washington, for example, men lost thousands of logging jobs in communities where unemployment rates subsequently soared. At the same time, more and more women went to college and qualified for higher-paying jobs. For Washington men working full time, incomes barely rose, with inflation taken into account, to $40,687 a year from $40,267. In contrast, women's wages rose to $30,021 from $26,745, narrowing the gap between men's and women's wages to 26 percent less for women from 34 percent.

In other states the gap showed similar changes. In Illinois, women earned 30 percent less than men in 1999, compared with 35 percent less in 1989.

As a result of more women in the work force, median family incomes rose, typically about 10 percent, to more than $50,000 a year in most of the states. One exception was California. There, the number of women working full time slipped to 51.3 percent from 53.4 percent, and the median family income rose only $385 in 10 years, to $53,025.

Mr. Beveridge's calculations also show that poverty levels hardly changed over two decades, even though the welfare overhaul moved the largest group of those on welfare — single mothers — into the work force. Percentages of families deemed poor were roughly consistent with the percentages of those on welfare — about 8 percent in the 13 states. One state showing a clear decline in poverty was the poorest of the 13, Mississippi. There, 16 percent of families fell below the poverty line, down from 20 percent in 1990.

For the better-off, middle-class, home-owning Americans, mortgage payments typically grew more than incomes. In Illinois, the median income grew 14.8 percent in two decades, Mr. Beveridge's analysis shows, while mortgage payments grew 38.7 percent.

For those over 65, however, incomes grew, in part because Social Security payments are tied to inflation and in part because of stock market gains they were able to reap. As a result, poverty among the elderly dropped in nearly all the states. In Indiana, for example, poverty in this group dropped from 10.7 percent in 1990 to 7.7 percent in 2000; in Washington, it dropped from 11.3 percent to 9.5 percent.

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