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Data shows little change in economic status under Bush

Poverty rates, income levels and insurance coverage among American Indians and Alaska Natives showed little improvement under the Bush administration, the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Thursday.

Reflecting a nationwide trend, poverty among Native Americans increased slightly from 2001 to 2003. According to the data, an average of 23 percent of single-race Native families lived in poverty, nearly twice the national average of 12 percent.

Income levels were also flat nationwide and among Native Americans. The median income over the past three years for single-race Native households was $33,024, a drop of 1.6 percent. Nationally, income levels fell 0.6 percent to a median of $43,527.

The data for insurance coverage painted a similar picture. Nearly 28 percent of single-race American Indians and Alaska Natives were without insurance during the Bush administration, a slight drop of 0.9 percent. The rate was nearly twice the national average of 15.1 percent.

The statistics were contained in a new report "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003." For the first time, the Census Bureau released all three indicators of the nation's economic well being at once.

The triple dose of negative news gave Democrats an opening to criticize George W. Bush's economic policies. "These numbers are deeply troubling for what they say about the direction of this country," said Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota).

But Bush, on his fourth visit to New Mexico this year, said his administration has made improvements. "When it comes to health care reforms that have helped our seniors and helped our families, we're getting the job done," Bush said in Farmington. "When it comes to improving our economy and creating jobs, we're getting the job done."

In New Mexico, a state where 9.5 percent of the population is Native American, the outlook appeared grim. The state was the sixth lowest in terms of median income, second highest in terms of poverty and second highest for those without health insurance.

Still, not all the news was bad for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Due to a change in how race was recorded on the Census 2000, the data showed improvements for mixed-race Native Americans.

For example, when mixed-race families are included, the median income level for Native Americans is $34,740, an increase of $1,369, or 4 percent. Looking at the data this way, Native Americans were the only group to record an improvement.

Similarly, when mixed-raced families are included, the poverty rate for Native Americans is 20.0 percent, a drop of 1.6 percent. Again, Native Americans were the only group to record an improvement.

As for insurance coverage, the inclusion of mixed-race Native Americans put the rate at 23.8 percent. Based on this data, 1.3 percent more Natives received insurance in the last three years.

At the same time, when mixed-race Natives are included, the number of Native Americans in poverty and without insurance goes up. According to the report, a total of 883,000 Native Americans lived below the poverty level last year while 1.1 million lacked insurance.

Census Bureau officials said yesterday that the increase in the number of poor and uninsured Americans and the drop in median income levels was due to the recession, which officially began in March 2001 and ended in November 2001.

Get the Report:
Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003 (August 2004)

More Information:
Income Levels | Poverty Rates | Health Insurance | Press Release