WASHINGTON – The nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.
The percentage of people without health insurance did not change.
Overall, there were 37 million people living in poverty, up 1.1 million people from 2003.
Asians were the only ethnic group to show a decline in poverty -- from 11.8 percent in 2003 to 9.8 percent last year. The poverty rate among the elderly declined as well, from 10.2 percent in 2003 to 9.8 percent last year.
The last decline in overall poverty was in 2000, when 31.1 million people lived under the threshold -- 11.3 percent of the population.
The number of people without health insurance grew from 45 million to 45.8 million. At the same time, the number of people with health insurance coverage grew by 2 million last year.
The median household income, meanwhile, stood at $44,389, unchanged from 2003. Among racial and ethnic groups blacks had the lowest median income and Asians the highest. Median income refers to the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less.
Regionally, income declined only in the Midwest, down 2.8 percent to $44,657. The South was the poorest region and the Northeast and the West had the highest median incomes.
The increase in poverty came despite strong economic growth, which helped create 2.2 million jobs last year.
Sheldon Danziger, co-director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, said the poverty number is still much better than the 80s and early 90s.
"The good news is that poverty is a lot lower than it was in 1993, but we went through a hell of an economic boom," Danziger said. "Nobody is predicting we're going to go through another economic boom like that."
The poverty threshold differs by the size and makeup of a household. For instance, a family of four with two children was considered living in poverty if income was $19,157 or less. For a family of two with no children, it was $12,649. For a person 65 and over living alone, it was 9,060.
The estimates on poverty, uninsured and income are based on supplements to the bureau's Current Population Survey, and are conducted over three months, beginning in February, at about 100,000 households nationwide.