NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 5, 2007

The government last week released its annual statistical report on poverty and household income.  A big part of the story went unreported: The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration.  As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up, says columnist Robert J. Samuelson.

The standard story is that the poverty rate is static; superficially, the statistics support this: 

  • The poverty rate measures the share of Americans below the official poverty line, which in 2006 was $20,614 for a four-person household.
  • Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent, down slightly from 12.6 percent in 2005 but higher than the recent low, 11.3 percent in 2000.
  • It was also higher than the 11.8 percent average for the 1970s.

So the conventional wisdom seems amply corroborated.  It isn't.  Look again at the numbers:

  • In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty; that's the figure that translates into the 12.3 percent poverty rate.
  • In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5 percent.
  • The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million); Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.


  • From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million.
  • Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006.
  • Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006.
  • White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000 but is down over longer periods.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Importing Poverty," Washington Post, September 5, 2007.

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