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Ranks of Poverty Swell in '91 by 2 Million, Census Reports

By Spencer Rich
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

The number of Americans living below the official poverty line increased for the second straight year in 1991, to more than 35.7 million, and the nation's median income continued to fall, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.

The findings were bad news for President Bush, whose handling of the economy has become the cornerstone of Democrat Bill Clinton's challenge. The White House said the new figures were inevitable given the nation's continuing high unemployment rates.

"Certainly, I think we have to expect that the recession would have a significant and serious impact on income and on poverty levels," said Marlin Fitzwater, the president's press secretary.

"We have tried to target a number of programs in the last couple of years particularly to those problems, knowing that the recession would have deleterious effects, and that's one of the reasons we have increased money for Head Start and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and some of the other food programs and so forth, for low-income citizens."

Clinton had a different reaction.

"Four years ago, we were asked to trust Mr. Bush when he promised that the next century will be `an American century,' " Clinton said here as he accepted the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. "But over the past 11 and a half years, while the Reagan-Bush-Quayle team have been in charge of America's economic policy, we have gone from first in the world in wages to 13th, and the latest Census figures plainly show that over two-thirds of the American people are working harder for less money than they were making 10 years ago."

Based on a survey of 60,000 households, the bureau found that in 1991, the number of people with incomes below the official poverty line increased by 2.1 million to 35.7 million-the highest number since 1964, when 36.1 million were in poverty. In 1991, the poverty line for a single person was $6,932 and for a family of four, $13,924.

The bureau said that the proportion of Americans in poverty increased from 13.5 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent-the highest figure since 1984 and a rate exceeding that of any year of the 1970s. The poverty figure for blacks was 32.7 percent, and 28.7 percent of Hispanics were below the poverty line.