NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Real Poverty Record

June 25, 2002

Some people are determined to spin bad news out of good, so when the new Census Bureau figures came out, observers say, the doomsayers went to work. In fact, they missed the key point: the rich got richer in the 1990s, but so did the poor.

  • Between 1989 and 1999, inflation-adjusted incomes median incomes rose by nearly $3,000 to $41,984.
  • Over the same period, the poverty rate fell to 12.4 percent from 13.1 percent -- and some contend this small drop means the economic boom of the 1990s left the underclass mired in destitution.

But consider immigration and welfare reform.

During the 1990s, a record 11 million immigrants came here -- more than half from Latin America, and many poor. Poverty should have increased, but a 1999 Fannie Mae study found upward income mobility is the norm for immigrants -- and not at the expense of those already here. Areas with the largest immigrant population had faster economic growth and lower unemployment than areas with fewer immigrants.

More significant is the impact of welfare reform.

  • In 1994, the poverty rate of single mothers and children -- who comprise the bulk of America's poor -- was 44 percent, the same as in 1970.
  • By 2000, that figure had dropped to 32.5 percent, an all time low.
  • Between 1995 and 2000, the poverty rate among black children dropped by a third, after never improving between 1969 and 1994.

In other words, during the 1990s millions of poor immigrants moved into the bottom category -- but many moved up out of it, many because of welfare reform. And from the mid-90s to the present, employment of never-married mothers jumped 50 percent.

Source: Editorial, "Lies, Damned Lies and the Census," Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2002.

For WSJ text,,SB102496672943534280,00.html


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