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Immigration and Poverty: Disappointing Income Growth in the 1990s not Solely the Result of Growing Immigrant Population

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Recently released data from the 2000 Census show that the nation's poverty rate fell less than one percentage point between 1989 and 1999, dropping from 13.1% to 12.4%. In some states, including California and New York, the poverty rate was higher in 1999 than in 1989. In addition, some areas of the country failed to see the increases in real median family income that were hoped for given the strong economy of the latter 1990s.

For example, Census data reveal that median family income in New York grew only $113 (0.2%) in real terms over the decade. These results are disappointing for those who expected more from the strongest economy in decades. Media coverage has downplayed these disappointing findings as being largely the result of a growing immigrant population.

The reasoning behind this claim is that income failed to grow as much as expected due to the addition of more low-income families to the population through immigration. The implication is that the United States' lack of economic progress in regard to poverty or median income growth should not be of great concern--it wasn't the strong economy that failed to lift incomes, but rather the increase in low-income families from abroad that makes it appear like no progress has been made in these areas.