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Census: Fewer Long Island residents below poverty level
[August 27, 2008]

Census: Fewer Long Island residents below poverty level

(Newsday (Melville, NY) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 27----1



The number of people living below the poverty level in Nassau and Suffolk counties declined by a total of 34,687 between 2006 and 2007, and the counties' median household incomes rose, according to data the U.S. Census Bureau released yesterday.

In Nassau, the percent of people below the poverty level was 4.4 percent of the total population in 2007, or 56,308, down from 5.2 percent, or 68,045, the year before. In Suffolk, people living in poverty was 5 percent in 2007, or 71,369, down from 6.5 percent (94,319 people), in 2006, according to the bureau's annual American Community Survey, which analyzed income and poverty for communities with populations of 65,000 or more.

The surveys use the federal average poverty threshold, which for a family of four nationally was set at $21,203 in 2007.

Statewide, the poverty rate was much higher -- 14.5 percent of New York's population, or 2.76 million people were living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau's 2007 Current Population Survey, also out yesterday, which prompted concern from some advocacy and policy organizations.

Nationally, the percentage of the population living in poverty hardly altered between 2006 and 2007. The number in poverty was 12.5 percent last year for a total of 37.3 million, up marginally from 36.5 million in 2006.

Seth Forman, chief planner with the Long Island Regional Planning Board, said the reason for the poverty declines was unclear, but he suspected that in part they could be linked to a drop in the number of single women who head households on Long Island, also reflected in yesterday's survey data.

"They make up a pretty significant portion of those below the poverty level," Forman said. "That's a pretty vulnerable demographic and there's less of them, and I can't really tell you why."

In addition to poverty rate declines, Forman noted increases in the median, or middle, household income -- Nassau's went from $85,994 in 2006 to $89,782 in 2007; and Suffolk's from $76,847 to $83,447.

"I think these are remarkably positive data," he said, but cautioned against reading too much into a one-year comparison. "I want to see a longer-term trend."

Looking at statewide poverty and income rates, however, Trudi Renwick, senior economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, which has offices in Albany and Manhattan, saw problems. She said New York did not gain ground in 2007, the tail end of a period of "economic expansion."

She said she'd expected bigger poverty rate declines and income increases and yet the poverty level for New York remained above the level it was in 2000.

The institute said poverty rates upstate far exceeded New York City's 18.5 percent. In Syracuse, for example, 31.1 percent of people lived in poverty in 2007.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg lauded the poverty rate decline in the city, down from 19.2 percent in 2006, but criticized the federal poverty formula as "outdated and broken."

Median income for households headed by someone under age 65 decreased slightly in New York from $49,558 in 2004-05 to $49,267 in 2006-07, and not statistically significant from the level in 2000-01, according to the institute. That "bodes poorly as we enter a recession," Renwick said.

Nationally, median household income increased slightly, 1.3 percent in 2007 from the year before to $50,233. But the bureau said that was not statistically different from the $50,641 in 1999.

The Census Bureau also looked at health insurance coverage, reporting the number of people across the nation without insurance dropped from 47 million (15.8 percent) to 45.7 million (15.3 percent) in 2007. Those covered by private health insurance remained roughly the same, while those covered by government health insurance increased by almost 3 million people from 2006 to 2007.

The percentage of New Yorkers without health insurance decreased from 14 percent to 13.2 percent in 2007. The Fiscal Policy Institute attributed this increase also to more people insured through government programs.


Highlights from the U.S. Census Bureau report, released yesterday, on income, poverty and health insurance coverage:

Real median household income nationally rose 1.3 percent between 2006 and 2007, to $50,233, the third annual increase in median household income.

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