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U.S. Poverty Rate Drops--33.1 Million Officially Poor

August 26, 1986|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The nation's poverty rate, closely tracking the economy, dropped to 14% last year, meaning that 33.1 million Americans are officially considered poor, the Census Bureau said today.

A Census Bureau report showed that the poverty rate was down 0.4 percentage points from 1984, but officials said the change was not significant.

Most of the improvement in the poverty rate came among blacks, where the figure dropped from 33.8% in 1984 to 31.3% in 1985. A total of 8.9 million blacks were in poverty in 1985, contrasted with 9.5 million in 1984.

According to the report, neither the number of whites in poverty--22.9 million--nor their poverty rate--11.4%--changed.

The poverty rate among children under 18--20.5%--also was virtually unchanged from 1984.

'It's the Right Trend'

Gordon Green, acting chief of the Census Bureau's population division, cautioned that "it's hard to look at just a one-year change and make a big deal out of it. Still, it's the right trend." He noted that the figure is the second annual decrease in the poverty rate.

He said the rise in median family income in 1985 represents the third straight increase for that measure.

Green said the poverty rate among blacks suggests that the economic recovery, now in its third year, is beginning to reach broader segments of the economy. Black workers, often less skilled than whites, are generally among the first laid off during a recession and the last hired when prosperity begins to return.

The poverty figures are based only on money income before any deductions and do not include the value of non-cash benefits, an increasingly large proportion of the income of the poor but a subject of intense debate among researchers as to how they should be counted.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in 1985 was $10,989. The figure for 1984 was $10,609.

Real Median Up 1.3%

The report also showed that real median family income rose by a sluggish 1.3% in 1985, the third straight annual increase and also suggestive of the impact of the economic recovery.

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