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Poor getting poorer, but rich doing nicely.

It is difficult for any of us, the media included, to focus on more than one major story at a time. This week we had at least three "biggies": the siege of the Moscow White House; escalating violence in Somalia; and, in our own Catholic sphere, the issuance of a new papal encyclical.

So it might have been easy to miss a story that appeared in U.S. newspapers Oct. 5, the day we saw photographs of the renegade Russian parliament leaders being led off to Moscow jail cells. I refer to the annual report, buried deep inside most newspapers, by the U.S. Census bureau detailing household incomes.

Poverty, it turns out, continues to rise while the U.S. rich continue to make gains. Or, as they say, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Despite the end of the recession, the number of poor people in the United States increased last year by 1.2 million, to 36.9 million, increasing three times as fast as the overall population, the Census Bureau reported.

The number of poor people, it said, was higher than in any year since 1962, when John Kennedy was president. In that year, of course, the nation's population was much smaller, and the poor accounted for a larger proportion of the total population: 21 percent in 1962, compared with 14.5 percent in 1992.

Offering more historical perspective, the Census Bureau said that the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 percent and 14.2 percent from 1967 to 1981. It peaked at 15.2 percent in 1983 - the highest since the 17.3 percent recorded in 1965 - and then declined to 12.8 percent in 1989. It has risen each year since then, to 13.5 percent in 1990, 14.2 percent in 1991 and 14.5 percent in 1992.

More worrisome was the news that the poverty rate for children younger than 18 - 21.9 percent last year - was the highest since 1983 and was nearly as high as in 1964, when it was 23 percent. It was in that year that President Johnson declared his War on Poverty.

Robert Reno, writing in Newsday, had this to say: "Don't believe the latest numbers are inflated by liberal bureaucrats' grandiose ideas of how much income it takes not to be poor. A family of three that makes a penny over $11,186 - wages, salaries, Social Security benefits, lottery prizes, welfare payments, tips or duly reported poker winnings - is not counted as poor. They're living in contentment and security, I suppose. Try it."

If only so many didn't have to.
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Title Annotation:U.S. Census 1992 incomes data
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 15, 1993
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