A September 19 Washington Post editorial falsely asserted that the overall poverty rate in the United States has steadily increased "since 1999." In fact, the poverty rate decreased during every year of President Clinton's tenure -- indeed, the rate was even lower in 2000 than it was in 1999 -- and has increased every year since President Bush took office. Further, while the editorial purported to present a "broad look at poverty in America," which it claimed "shows significant, and in some case impressive, progress," the Post never mentioned to readers the reversal of this progress that has occurred under the Bush administration, in some cases providing misleading statistics that hide this fact.
The Post editorial noted that the total poverty rate has "disturbingly" increased in recent years:
The overall poverty rate fell from 19 percent in 1964 to 12.7 percent last year, though most of that decline occurred during the first decade. Since 1999, the rate has been edging steadily, and disturbingly, upward.
But the claim that the poverty rate has continuously increased "since 1999" is patently false. In fact, the rate dropped from 11.9 percent in 1999 to 11.3 percent in 2000, Clinton's final year in the White House. It has since risen every year that Bush has been in office, from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent in 2004.
And, in an example of the use of misleading statistics, the Post noted that the poverty rate among children is higher now than it was in the 1970s but failed to mention that, as with the overall poverty rate, the rate decreased every year under the Clinton administration and has risen every year since Bush took office. Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in poverty dropped from 22.7 percent to 16.2 percent. Since 2001, that share has increased to 17.8 percent.
In 1959, the first year poverty statistics were collected, 55 percent of African Americans were below the poverty line. By 1966, that had fallen to 41.8 percent; it was 24.7 percent last year.
While it is correct that the number of African-Americans living in poverty has decreased dramatically over the past 40 years, it also bears mentioning that the percentage fell under Clinton, from 33.1 percent in 1993 to 22.5 percent in 2000. By contrast, from 2001 to 2004, the poverty rate among African-Americans increased from 22.7 percent to 24.7 percent.
In the same vein, the Post noted that the poverty rate among families headed by African-American single mothers has decreased during the past decade:
Some of the most dramatic gains have been made in recent years by black women. Before 1994, well over half of households headed by African American women lived beneath the poverty level; that number has since dropped below 40 percent.
But the Post failed to note that these "dramatic gains" occurred during Clinton's tenure in the White House. Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of families in this category fell from 53 percent to 38.6 percent. During Bush's first four years in office, however, that rate has climbed from 37.4 percent to 39.5 percent.