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Published: Friday, 9/1/2006

Economy: Running in place

JUDGING by the latest report from the Census Bureau, many Americans are stuck in a hamster-wheel economy running hard, but either not getting anywhere or slipping back.

Yes, household income in the United States was up last year by 1.1 percent, adjusted for inflation, as White House spin-meisters were quick to point out but that was only because more members of households were working at low-paying jobs.

Median wages fell for full-time workers, including both men (by 1.8 percent) and women (1.3 percent). That s hardly the definition of getting ahead, or of an economy that the administration relentlessly claims as strong.

The number of Americans living in poverty was unchanged from 2004 at 12.6 percent, but even that faint gleam of optimism was clouded by figures showing that the number of those living in extreme poverty rose sharply.

The official poverty line is an annual income of $19,971 for a family of four, although the average person living in poverty earned $3,236 less than that, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out.

That s the highest gap ever registered, the liberal think tank said, and even conservative observers found little cause for encouragement in the census report. It tells us the economy is still not generating the higher-paying jobs we d like to see, Douglas Besharov, of the American Enterprise Institute, told USA Today.

For Ohio and Michigan, the report had mixed news. While the bureau reported that median household income fell 5.9 percent nationally from 1999 to 2005, the drop for Michigan was 11.9 percent, largest in the nation. Ohio, with 13 percent of its residents living in poverty, did manage to stay below the national average of 13.3 percent.

In terms of urban poverty, Cleveland grabbed back the title of the nation s poorest large city for 2005 from Detroit, while Cincinnati moved into the national bottom 10 at number eight.

Toledo, with 23.4 percent poor residents, ranks third in the state, behind Columbus (18.5 percent) and Akron (20.1 percent) but better than Youngstown (24.3), Cincinnati (25 percent), Canton (27.4 percent), Dayton (28.9 percent), and Cleveland (32.4 percent).

In the meantime, another 1.3 million Americans were added to the ranks of those without health insurance, a distinction that for many can mean the difference between getting by and financial ruin.

At the same time, the income gap between rich and poor continued to grow, as it has over the past 10 years.

The subtext to the report is that President Bush s vaunted tax cuts have failed to produce the big jumps in wealth the administration has been confidently predicting for five years, except perhaps among the already well-off.

If the economy has recovered from the 2000 slump, middle and low-income Americans have yet to share in it, a fact that won t and shouldn t do Republicans any good in the upcoming mid-term elections. The rising tide that is supposed to lift all boats so far has boosted mostly the yachts.



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