For a Kinder, Gentler Society
U.S. Household Incomes Pass Pre-Recession High of '89
The Associated Press - October 1, 1999 WASHINGTON - American household incomes rose in 1998 for the fourth consecutive year, the Census Bureau reported Thursday, finally surpassing a 1989 pre-recession high, and the number of people living in poverty fell by more than 1 million.

"The best news is that these gains finally are being shared with all groups, from the wealthiest to the poorest," President Bill Clinton said after the Census Bureau released its annual income and poverty report.

Last year, 12.7 percent of Americans lived in poverty, down from 13.3 percent in 1997. The decline was led by the South, where the poverty rate fell to a record low, the bureau said.

The total number of Americans living in poverty fell by 1.1 million, to 34.5 million in 1998 from 35.6 million in 1997. That means the country's poverty rate has settled back to about the same level, statistically speaking, as the 13.1 percent low hit in 1989 before the recession of the early 1990s.

Median household incomes rose 3.5 percent, or about $1,300, in 1998, to a high of $38,900 a year. That surpassed the 1989 pre-recession median income by 2.6 percent.

The number of poor Americans under 18 years of age fell to 13.5 million, or 18.9 percent of the population in the age group, down from 19.9 percent in 1997. It was the first time the poverty rate for children had been below 20 percent by a statistically significant margin since 1980.

The poverty rate among Hispanic Americans fell to 25.6 percent from 27. 1 percent, and that for whites fell to 8.2 percent from 8.6 percent. The poverty rate for blacks stayed about the same in 1998, holding at a record low of 26.1 percent. The Census Bureau said the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans remained the same last year, as it had since 1993.

The difference between men's and women's earnings did not change much, either, with women earning 73 cents for every $1 earned by men, compared with 74 cents in 1997.

Median income rose in all four regions of the country, with the biggest increase in the Midwest, where incomes climbed 4.4 percent, to $40,600. Incomes increased 3 percent to $41,000 in the West, 2.8 percent to $40,600 in the Northeast and 2.6 percent to $35,800 in the South.