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October 2005, Volume 11, Number 4

Census: Population, Poverty

Between April 2000 and July 2004, the US population rose from 281 million to 294 million, including 198 million whites, 41 million Hispanics, 39 million Blacks and 14 million Asians. The non-Hispanic white population, now two-thirds of US residents, will drop to one-half by 2050, according to US Census projections. Texas (just over 50 percent) joined Hawaii (77 percent), New Mexico (56 percent), and California (56 percent) as the fourth state in which minority groups, taken together, account for a majority of the population.

California's 36 million residents included 12 million Hispanics and five million Asians. Los Angeles county, with 10 million residents, included 4.6 million Hispanics and 1.4 million Asians, 60 percent. An analysis of third generation Mexican-Americans found that only 11 percent earned college degrees, compared to 38 percent of whites and 46 percent of Asian Americans.

Most western cities, reliant on water from far away, are more densely populated than eastern cities, which have large-lot suburbs. The Census reported that the urbanized area in and around Los Angeles is the most densely populated US place, more dense than the New York, Washington or Atlanta metro areas. In some cases, high density in the Los Angeles area is due to immigrants crowding into conventional housing. Of the 10 US municipalities that have an average of more than four people per household, nine are in sections of Los Angeles marked by garage conversions and back-yard sheds.

Maywood, one-square-mile in southeast Los Angeles County that was built for 10,000 people, is the densest city in California, with about 30,000 residents today. One homeowner was cited for putting four metal tool sheds from Home Depot in the backyard and renting them to newcomers for $150 a month each. Maywood schools have been officially overcrowded and operating on an emergency year-round schedule for the past 23 years.

In other parts of the US, planned communities are being developed on the fringes of urban areas. Unlike the 1950s "exurbs" of country estates for the wealthy, today's exurbs offer large homes that appeal to families willing to endure longer commutes in exchange for lower home prices. Eventually, clusters of homes are annexed to existing cities or become new cities, many of which are diverse. For example, in a Florida exurb development called New River, almost half of the buyers were in their 30s. They were 38 percent Hispanic, 24 percent white and 16 percent black, and 75 percent had children, making space and safety major concerns. The exurbs are heavily Republican.

Poverty. The Census reported that the median income of US households was $44,400 in 2004, down about four percent from its 1999 peak and unchanged from 2003. The median earnings of full-time workers employed year-round fell to $40,800 for men and to $31,200 for women.

The range in median incomes across counties with populations of 250,000 or more was almost four to one. Fairfax County, Virginia had the highest median household income in 2004, about $88,000, and Hildalgo county, Texas had the lowest, about $25,000.

The poverty line was $19,307 for a family of four in 2004, and 37 million Americans, 12.7 percent, had incomes below the line- poverty was at its lowest in 2000, when 32 million or 11.3 percent were poor. The earned income tax credit, which refunds $30 billion to working poor parents with children in the country's largest cash-transfer program, is not included in the pre-tax income used to calculate who is poor, raising the incomes of the working poor.

Some 45 million Americans did not have health insurance in 2004, according to the Census. However, up to 10 million of them may be eligible for or enrolled in Medicaid and other federal health care programs, reducing the number of those without coverage.

Labor Force. The Current Population Survey asks whether workers are US- or foreign-born. In 2004, there were 21.4 million foreign-born persons in the US labor force, 14.5 percent of the total work force of 148 million. Between 2002 and 2004, the foreign-born labor force rose by 1.2 million, accounting for about half of US labor force growth.

About the same percentage of US- and foreign-born residents 16 and older are in the labor force, 66 percent. Foreign-born men had a higher labor force participation rate than US-born men in 2004, 81 compared to 72 percent, while foreign-born women had a lower LFPR, 54 compared to 60 percent. The biggest gap in LFPRs was for women with children under 18-- 58 percent of such foreign-born women were in the labor force, compared to 73 percent for US-born women.

Foreign-born full-time wage and salary workers earned an average of $502 a week in 2004, 76 percent as much as US-born workers, who averaged $662 a week. Foreign-born men earned 69 percent as much as US-born men, while the foreign-born women in the labor force earned 81 percent as much as similar US-born women.

Immigrants are about 12 percent of US residents, almost 15 percent of US workers, and 20 percent of US workers earning less than $9 an hour. An Urban Institute analysis of low-income immigrant-worker families that met several conditions, including having adults who worked at least 1,000 hours in 2001, an income that was less than twice the poverty level, and in which the highest earner was born abroad, found that 42 percent of immigrant-headed families were low-income, compared to 21 percent of families with US-born heads of household.

Assuming that those who used tax preparers got Earned Income Tax Credits, about 68 percent of immigrant-headed families and 83 percent of families with US-born heads of household got EITC benefits. One reason for the gap in EITC benefits is that 30 percent of foreign-born workers are believed to be unauthorized, which makes them ineligible for the largest US means-tested cash assistance program.


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