August 25, 2004


The number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.3 million last year, to 35.9 million, while those without health insurance climbed by 1.4 million, to 45 million, the Census Bureau reported today.

It was the third straight annual increase for both categories.

The figures, which the administration issued a month earlier than usual, quickly became the focus of political charges.

"Today confirms the failure of President Bush's policies for all Americans," Senator John Kerry said, referring to the new data. "Under George Bush's watch, America's families are falling further behind."

President Bush, while not specifically addressing today's report, said in a campaign appearance in Las Cruces, N.M., that "we have more to do to make quality health care available and affordable."

But he said his administration had strengthened Medicare, and "expanded quality care through community health centers for low-income Americans."

The president, as he usually does, credited American workers and entrepreneurs, as well as his own "well-timed tax cuts," for moving the country beyond the worst economic woes.

Other Republicans noted that even as the number of uninsured Americans grew, the number of insured did as well, by a million.

Median household income remained basically flat, at $43,318 when adjusted for inflation.

The numbers were not unexpected, and do not reflect the economic growth of the past several months that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Dan Weinberg, a Census Bureau analyst, said that the data were typical for a post-recession economy but that the numbers of insured reflected continued uncertainty over employment. Employers have cited the high costs of providing health insurance as a reason to hire conservatively.

Still, the new data come amid a close election campaign in which debate over economic health and fairness loom large.

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