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Census Bureau: More Blacks, Latinos Are Escaping Poverty

By Melissa Healy
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Census Bureau reported Thursday that poverty declined slightly in 1997, with the economic lots of blacks and Latinos improving most dramatically.

Experts said the booming economy - with the lowest unemployment rate in almost a quarter-decade - is the clearest reason for the figures. But they noted that welfare reform also may be contributing to the decline in poverty, as welfare recipients, prodded by new federal rules and by new state programs, leave public assistance rolls for better-paying, private-sector work.

In general, the economic snapshot captures a nation now fully emerged from a stubborn recession, with median household incomes back to where they were before the recession began in 1990 - just above $37,000. And while blacks and Latinos continue to lag far behind whites economically, the two minority groups outpaced whites both in moving out of poverty and in boosting their median income levels overall.

President Clinton on Thursday touted the census findings, calling them "one more year's worth of compelling evidence that this economic strategy is working This report also shows that our growing economy is giving more and more families a chance to work their way out of poverty."

The census found that in 1997, 8.3 million people of Hispanic origin lived below the poverty line of $16,400 for a family of four, down from 8.7 million in 1996. And the proportion of Latinos living in poverty dropped from 29.4 percent in 1996 to 27.1 percent last year. That is the largest one-year drop in poverty among Latinos in two decades.

In the same year, 9.1 million blacks lived in poverty, reflecting a drop of two percentage points - to 26.5 percent - in poverty rates for the group.

For black and Latino families headed by a single mother, the rise in median income was nothing short of remarkable: the median income for black households with a female head and no husband present grew 6.3 percent between 1996 and 1997.