Percentage of Americans in poverty grew for the fourth straight year, the US Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
Despite a year in which the US economy added jobs, the percentage of Americans living in poverty grew from 12.5 to 12.7 percent last year - the fourth straight year it's risen.
That increase, reported in the much-anticipated annual Census Bureau study Tuesday, surprised many analysts who had expected the number to drop along with unemployment.
Political pundits on both sides of the aisle rushed to put their stamp on the news, with Democrats blaming the trend on failed economic policies and Republicans pointing out that some regions and groups improved.
While the overall poverty numbers went up, for instance, the Midwest was the only region that experienced an increase. Rates for child poverty and the uninsured were unchanged - after experiencing a rise the year before - and most measures of income gap showed no change.
While the means of calculating the statistics have drawn criticism from both the right and the left, many experts see the annual figures as a useful yardstick by which to measure progress over time. And for some, the lack of long-term improvement is particularly troubling.
"There is still a generation of no progress against poverty," says Sheldon Danziger, codirector of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. "Somehow, we have to confront the fact that ... a rising economy no longer lifts all boats."
Others, however, were optimistic.
"America looks like a giant jobs machine still," says Douglas Besharov, director of the American Enterprise Institute's Social and Individual Responsibility Project. "Sure, it'd be nice if we got out of recessions faster, but this is a very firm base from which to build."
Mr. Besharov and other conservatives point to the fact that over the last several decades, progress has been made on quality-of-life factors such as housing quality and life expectancy of the poor. And they emphasize that this most recent rise in poverty seems limited to the Midwest.