WASHINGTON (AP) Even as the U.S. economy shows signs of improvement and poverty levels off, census data released Thursday suggest the gains are uneven.
Poverty is on the rise in single-mother families. More people are falling into the lowest-income group. And after earlier signs of increased mobility, fewer people are moving as homeownership declined for a fifth straight year.
“We’re in a selective recovery,” said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed the numbers.
The number of Americans in poverty remained largely unchanged at a record 46.5 million.
The annual U.S. survey of socioeconomic indicators covers all of last year, representing the third year of a post-recession rebound.
By race, a growing proportion of poor children are Hispanic, a record 37 percent of the total. Whites make up 30 percent, blacks 26 percent.
The numbers reflect widening economic inequality, an issue President Barack Obama has pledged would be a top priority of his administration to address. Upward mobility in the U.S. has been hurt by a tight job market and the disappearance of mid-skill jobs due to globalization and automation.
The new census data shows that lower-income households are a steadily increasing share of the population, while middle- to higher-income groups shrank or were flat. In 2012, households earning less than $24,999 made up 24.4 percent of total households, up from 21.7 percent four years earlier.
“Many Americans continue to think that a rising tide lifts all boats,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan economist. “But the bad news is that given the way economic growth trickles down now, the number of poor and disadvantaged will remain high unless we do more to help those in need.”
The new figures also show a slightly faster pace of growth in the foreign-born population, which increased to 40.8 million, or 13 percent of the U.S. Last year’s immigration increase of 440,000 people was a reversal of a 2011 dip, when many Mexicans already in the U.S. chose to return home.
Many of the newer immigrants are now higher-skilled workers from Asian countries such as China and India. The number of immigrants in the U.S. with less than a high school diploma, who make up the bulk of the total foreign-born population, fell slightly in 2012 to 10.8 million. Immigrants with bachelor’s degrees or higher rose by more than 4 percent to 9.8 million.
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