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Aug. 26, 2004

U-M experts available to discuss poverty in U.S. Census Bureau report

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The U.S. Census Bureau reported today (Aug. 26) a modest increase in the official 2003 poverty rate compared with a year earlier, and University of Michigan experts are available to comment on the implications.

The Census report indicated that 12.5 percent of Americans—or 35.9 million people—were at the poverty level, up 0.4 percentage points (1.3 million people more than 2002), despite an economic recovery nationwide last year, said Sheldon Danziger, the Henry J. Meyer Collegiate Professor of Public Policy at U-M. “The unemployment rate remained relatively high throughout 2003, there has been no increase in the minimum wage since 1997, and average wages stagnated relative to inflation,” said Danziger in explaining the factors at play. Danziger is co-director of the National Poverty Center, which is part of the U -M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The center analyzes the causes and consequences of poverty and the effects of anti-poverty policies. The latest figures continue the trend of slowly climbing poverty levels in the United States in recent years. Last year, the Census Bureau reported the poverty rate climbing to 12.1 percent in 2002 compared with 11.7 percent in 2001. The poverty rate today is not much different than it was 30 years ago, despite the fact that Americans on average have higher incomes today than in the early 1970s, Danziger noted.

Robert Schoeni, a r esearch associate professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research, said the poverty rate increase is, in part, driven by the somewhat higher rates of unemployment in 2003 than 2002. Unemployment rates in the United States in 2003 and 2002 were 6 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Employment among families most likely to be in poverty, including women on welfare, fell significantly during the recent recession and through 2003,” said Schoeni, who is also an associate professor of economics and public policy. “If the unemployment picture improves over the next few years, the poverty rate will also fall.”

As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2003 was $18,810; for a family of three, $14,680; for a family of two, $12,015; and for unrelated individuals, $9,393. Danziger can be reached at (734) 615-8321 or sheldond@umich.edu. For more information on him, visit http://ipumich.temppublish.com/public/experts/ExpDisplay.php?ExpID=174

Schoeni can be contacted to (734) 763-5131 or bschoeni@umich.edu. For more information on him, visit http://www.fordschool.umich.edu/people/Faculty/schoeni-b.htm

Other links:

National Poverty Center: http://www.npc.umich.edu/

U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/            

Contact: Jared Wadley
Phone: (734) 936-7819
E-mail: jwadley@umich.edu