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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2004

The cancer of poverty

THE indictment against President Bush's economic policy is growing, and no amount of political spin can save the administration from the hard reality of the government's own numbers.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in an annual report released last week, revealed that 1.3 million more Americans fell into poverty in 2003 and 1.4 million more were without health insurance. The rising totals in both categories were 35.8 million people (more than 12 percent of the population) living below the poverty line last year and 45 million (more than 15 percent) without medical coverage.

That is bitter news to swallow when the United States is expending young lives, public dollars, and global standing on a questionable war in Iraq.

Contrast that picture with the upbeat portrayal attempted three days earlier by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in announcing the 2003 figures on recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

HHS officials crowed that the 3 percent decline in use of the welfare cash benefits by individuals, to a total of 4.8 million people, and the 1.8 percent drop in use by families, to 2 million, showed that welfare reform was working and that, moreover, under the Bush Administration's economy, more and more Americans were becoming self-sufficient.

But TANF is only a small part of the poverty landscape, which is described by the more gloomy statistics of the Census.

As Blade staff writer Joe Mahr reported in a recent story, the poverty rate in Lucas County for families with children under age 5 increased from 19.2 percent to 27.8 percent, more than six points above the Ohio average. The increase in economic misery for society's most vulnerable citizens more than offsets a drop in the poverty rate among local adults.

Given the nation's still-anemic job growth and a sluggish 2.8 percent increase in the second-quarter gross domestic product (vs. 4.5 percent in the first), this is an economy that continues to afflict far too many have-nots and left-outs, even in 2004.

These numbers describe a different kind of America from the one projected by the White House.

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