Dems: Bush Playing Down Poverty, Insurance Stats

Some Democrats claim the Bush administration, in the midst of a fierce re-election battle, is trying to play down expected bad news from Census Bureau reports on poverty and health insurance by releasing them about a month earlier than usual.

The annual reports show how many people are in poverty, the median household income and how many are without health insurance. They normally are released separately in late September — one report on poverty and income, the other on insurance.

But this year they are being released together on Thursday, much further away from Election Day. Census Director Louis Kincannon — a Bush political appointee — is participating in the news conference, along with Census Bureau statisticians.

"These actions invite charges of spinning the data for political purposes," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (search), D-N.Y.

Kincannon denied politics played any role in moving up the release date of the reports. The move, announced earlier this year, was done to coordinate the numbers with the release of other data, the bureau has said.

"There has been no influence or pressure from the (Bush) campaign," Kincannon said.

Official national poverty estimates, as well as most government data on income and health insurance, come from the bureau's Current Population Survey.

This year the bureau will simultaneously release data from the broader American Community Survey (search), which also includes income and poverty numbers but cannot be statistically compared with the other survey.

The figures were sure to generate attention regardless of when they were unveiled since they typically serve as a report card of sorts for an administration's socio-economic policies.

Partisan debate figures to be more heated now, when the economy and health care are big issues in the tight presidential election race between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry.

Since job growth was slow until the second half of 2003 and wages were relatively stagnant, the report will probably show an increase in the number of people in poverty, said Sheldon Danzinger, co-director of the National Poverty Center (search) at the University of Michigan.

Many experts predict the same trend with uninsured Americans, though there are differing opinions on whether median incomes will grow slightly or stay flat.

Data between 2000 and 2002 showed the numbers of Americans in poverty and without health insurance rising. Income declined between 2001 and 2002.

William O'Hare, a researcher with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private children's advocacy group, expected increases in the number of kids in poverty and without health insurance. He called the changes in the way data is being released "bothersome."

"It makes me wonder whether this statistical agency is being politicized in some way," said O'Hare, who has studied the poverty and health insurance data for over two decades.