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Despite more jobs, US poverty rate rises

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"It's not uncommon for poverty to go up three or four years after a recession is over," says Kirk Johnson, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "And this slight increase in poverty is being driven by what is going on in America's heartland, rather than anything systemic throughout the country."

The numbers show a plateau for many of the indicators the report measures. While the number of those in poverty increased by 1.1 million from 2003 to 2004, to a total of 37 million, Asians were the only group whose poverty rate declined, while non-Hispanic whites were the only group to show an increase.

Some analysts say the numbers are particularly troubling not so much for the change they show, but the lack of it - the persistance of relatively high poverty rates over time. The real-life picture for those under the poverty level - or even many above it - can be grim, they say.

"A lot of us are very concerned that it seems increasingly difficult for poor children to achieve the kind of mobility that generations prior to ours had," says Margy Waller, a Brookings Institution scholar who served in the Clinton administration.

She and others say that poverty could be reduced if the government were to create and commit to more programs that focus on the working poor. In 2003, for example, despite a spike in child poverty, the percentage of children without health insurance remained steady from the year before. Many cite efforts to expand Medicaid enrollment and the State Children's Health Insurance Program as significant factors.

The US has made fewer strides in reducing poverty, critics say, than other industrialized nations. England, for example, has been cited for successfully reducing child poverty. "[Prime Minister] Tony Blair did in the UK in 1999 what President [Lyndon] Johnson did here in 1964, that is to say, 'We are going to make fighting poverty a priority,'" says Dr. Danziger.

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