S.C. poverty rate unchanged since '04

660,000 South Carolinians affected

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's poverty rate was stuck at 15.7 percent in 2006, essentially unchanged since 2004 and the 12th worst in the nation, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

University of South Carolina research economist Doug Woodward said the results from the Census' American Community Survey show that the rich are getting richer while the typical worker's wages are eroding with inflation.

"More of our income is going into profits than into wages," Woodward said. "If you're dependent on wages, the message is (that) you're not going to keep up. Labor is not the way to realize the American Dream."

About 660,000 of the state's 4.2 million people lived below federal definitions of poverty, which for a family of four was $20,614 last year.

The 2006 poverty rate was the same as 2004's and only a tenth of a percentage higher than the rate for 2005 -- a difference the Census Bureau considers insignificant because it might be explained by sampling error.

North Carolina and Georgia each had poverty rates of 14.7 percent last year, also essentially unchanged since 2004.

Nationwide, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent in 2006, down from 12.6 percent a year before, the Census Bureau reported.

The number of Americans without health insurance, however, rose from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million last year, the bureau said. The share of Americans without health insurance hit 15.8 percent last year, the highest percentage since 1998. In 2005, 15.3 percent were uninsured.

The report estimated that 672,000 South Carolinians -- 15.9 percent of the state's population -- had no health coverage last year. In 2005, the rate was 17.3 percent, but the margin of error is large enough that the change is considered insignificant.

Meanwhile, U.S. median household income increased slightly, to $48,200. South Carolina's median household income was $41,100 in 2006, ranking 41st among the states and Washington, D.C., and up 4.5 percent from 2005.

South Carolina has gained jobs since 2003, but its unemployment rate has remained above the U.S. average since 2001, when the U.S. economy was in a recession.

Woodward said the poverty trend reflects income has increased on average from 2000 through 2005 after inflation because of gains among the wealthiest, while more than half of full-time workers have seen the value of their wages erode.

Woodward said South Carolina needs to put more emphasis on both childhood and adult education because today's workers lack the skills to land higher-paying jobs.

"They're not competitive," he said. "In the labor market, they suffer the consequences of that."