The Wall Street Journal

June 5, 2002


Census Figures Show Poverty
Dropped, Median Income Grew


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WASHINGTON -- The median U.S. household income rose almost 8% faster than inflation during the booming 1990s, reaching $41,994 by 1999, according to newly released census data.

The overall percentage of Americans living in poverty, however, fell only slightly to 12.4% from 13.1% in 1989, by the federal definition that set the income limit at $16,895 for a family of four in 1999. The percentage of Americans 65 and over with poverty status dropped to 9.9% from 12.8%.

The information, some of the most detailed yet from the 2000 Census, was compiled from long-form questionnaires that were given to roughly 17% of all U.S. households. They offer a glimpse into a variety of demographic trends, including the types of jobs people have, their education level, and how many cars they own.

Short-form data, released last year, pertain mostly to population counts, housing and race. The long-form data show, for instance, that homes where only English is spoken dropped to 82.1% from 86.2%, while the percentage of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher rose to 24.4% from 20.3% a decade earlier.

The new income data show that poverty rates fell in parts of the South and the Midwest, though many rural areas continued to be some of the poorest communities, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Without adjusting for inflation, the median income rose almost 40% from $30,056. The percentage of households earning more than $150,000 nearly tripled, to 4.6%.

The biggest gains in overall economic growth were in outlying suburbs of large U.S. cities such as Denver, Atlanta and areas of northern California, the AP reported. Silicon Valley-area Santa Clara County had the largest job growth in the 1990s, due largely to the tech boom, followed by Los Angeles and Manhattan in New York City.

Among other findings:

 The number of half-million-dollar homes jumped considerably, to 3% in 1999 from 1.5% of the total in 1989.
 Monthly home mortgages more than $2,000 rose to 8.1% in 1999 from 3% in 1989. The percentage of homes not mortgaged fell, to 30% from 34.6%.
 More people drove alone to work, while fewer people reported carpooling or taking public transportation. The average commute to work increased by three minutes to 25.5 minutes.

Write to Kelly K. Spors at kelly.spors@wsj.com1

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Updated June 5, 2002

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