Thursday, November 4, 1999

Census: 1 in 5 Lives in Poverty in N.M.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- About one in five New Mexicans lived in poverty in 1996, ranking the state fifth from the bottom, behind the nation's capital, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. About 29.2 percent of the state's children lived in poverty that year.

The Census Bureau's state-by-state breakdown paints a bleak picture for some regions of the country, particularly the South, where poverty rates ran high in 1996. In contrast, the poverty rates of Northeastern states were often in the single digits.

Just 6.2 percent of New Hampshire's residents lived in poverty in 1996. Meanwhile, in Mississippi about one-fifth of the state's residents lived below the poverty line, the Census Bureau reported.

Nationally, 13.7 percent of Americans -- and 20.5 percent of children -- lived in poverty in 1996, according to the report.

The poverty threshold differs by household, depending mainly on the size of the family. In 1996, the poverty line for a family of four was $16,036 a year. New Mexico's median income for the year was $27,303, compared with a national median income of $35,492.

The Census Bureau released figures in September indicating the number of people living in poverty dropped by more than 1 million in 1998. That report did not have details on the states.

A range of factors contributes to widespread differences among states, including income, percentage of minorities and social program spending, said Sheldon Danziger, social work and public policy professor at the University of Michigan.

For example, Texas' high immigration rates and large number of racial and ethnic minorities contribute to its below-average performance, Danziger said. About 18 percent of all Texans and 26 percent of the state's children lived in poverty.

"Texas has always been a state with a relatively restrictive set of social programs," Danziger said. "It's a state that has always had a good deal of inequality."

Greg Duncan, education and social policy professor at Northwestern University, says another key indicator is education spending.

"The levels of spending on services like schooling tend to be correlated pretty substantially with poverty rates," Duncan said.