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Nation's poverty rate climbs, but many able to escape, U.S. census report shows

March 16, 2011 |  2:15 pm

A U.S. census report on poverty released Wednesday indicates that the nation's poverty rate has climbed but that many people who are impoverished are able to escape that situation.

Researchers studied a sample of more than 43,000 households over 36 months and found that of those who were impoverished in 2004, 42% were not in poverty in 2006.

Researchers also looked at other data and concluded that although 29% of the nation was impoverished for at least two months between 2004 and 2006, only 3% of those stayed in poverty for the duration of the study.

Nonetheless, as some moved out of poverty, a great deal moved in, the report found, and others were unable to grow their incomes enough to get out of poverty during the entirety of the study.

Chris Tilly, director of UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, said the report represents a glass that can be viewed as half full or half empty.

"I wouldn't say that's a stunningly positive result. Poverty is dynamic; not everybody stays in poverty long-term," he said. "We've always known that people move in and out of poverty [but] there are people who tend to get stuck."

Tilly said it was important to note that the economy was much better during the years of the study than it is now, and that the yardstick used to measure poverty does not take into account a living wage or cost-of-living expenses.

Victor Narro, director of UCLA's Downtown Labor Center, said the report does not account for "human indicators."

"Being in poverty, it's more than just economics," Narro said. "It's the stress and the damage it causes to the family ... even if a family is able to recuperate and get back."

The national poverty rate has climbed to record highs in recent years. More than 46 million people were in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008, according to data from the U.S. census.

The median household income in 2009 was $49,777.

In California in 2009, 9.8% of families and 13.2% of individuals were living in poverty. In Los Angeles County the same year, more than 1.5 million residents were below the poverty line.


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-- ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com