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Alabama improves in rank, but poverty remains high

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Alabama narrowly missed breaking out of the top 10 list of the poorest states in the country last year, according to new poverty statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But its climb to No. 10 instead of near the bottom came largely on the misfortunes of other states.

Alabama's poverty rate remains at roughly 16 percent, about where it has been for several years, and its median income is the fifth lowest in the nation.

The Census Bureau released the new figures Tuesday as part of the new American Community Survey, which samples 3 million households a year in cities and counties with populations of 65,000 or more.

Census officials say it provides the best data for comparing local areas and states.

Alabama had the 10th highest poverty rate, putting it ahead of Mississippi, which ranked first, followed by the District of Columbia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas.

Previous rankings

In older Census surveys that used different methodologies, Alabama regularly placed near the bottom, placing fourth in 1995, for example, and third in 1980, behind only Arkansas and Mississippi.

Annette Watters, manager of the Alabama State Data Center at The University of Alabama, said that even though poverty levels have remained stagnant in recent years, the broader trend shows an improvement from the 1980s and 1990s, when the state's poverty rate hovered around 20 percent.

"The percentage of people in poverty is definitely going down," she said.

"I'm taking the long view ... that general economic conditions in the state have improved."

She said much of that improvement can be attributed to decisions by auto makers and other manufacturers to open plants in the state.

The poverty level is the official measure used to decide eligibility for federal health, housing, nutrition and child care benefits.

It differs by family size and makeup. For a family of four with two children, for example, the poverty level is $20,444.

Kimble Forrister, executive director of Alabama Arise, a church-funded lobbying group for Alabama's poor, called the new data disappointing.

"Most Alabamians have only been treading water," Forrister said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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