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Number of uninsured drops; poverty holds steady

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    WASHINGTON — The number of people lacking health insurance dropped by more than 1 million in 2007, the first annual decline since the Bush administration took office, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
    The poverty rate held steady at 12.5 percent, not statistically different from the 12.3 percent registered in 2006. The median — or midpoint — household income rose slightly to $50,233. And the number of uninsured dropped to 45.7 million, down from 47 million in 2006.
    The numbers represent a kind of scorecard on President Bush’s stewardship of the economy at the kitchen-table level. However, they only go as far as the end of last year, before the current economic downturn started gathering force. Indeed, they could come to be seen as a snapshot taken at the high point of the administration’s tenure.
    The picture is mixed.
    ‘‘The gains that occurred last year were welcome, but unfortunately, they are too little, too late,’’ said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist with the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington. ‘‘The median household is no better off now than they were back in 2000, despite their deep contribution to the nation’s economic growth during this period.’’
    For example, after adjusting for inflation, last year’s median household income of $50,233 was not significantly different from the figure for the year 2000, which was $50,557. ‘‘The American work force is baking a bigger economic pie, but the slices haven’t grown at all,’’ said Bernstein.
    The welcome news on health insurance coverage was tempered by the fact that private coverage continued to erode. Government programs — such as Medicaid for the poor — picked up the slack, resulting in the overall reduction in people without health insurance. The uninsured rate also fell to 15.3 percent, down from 15.8 percent in 2006.
    ‘‘A lot of the fall is due to the increase in public coverage,’’ said David Johnson, who oversees the Census division that produced the statistics. The number of uninsured children also fell in 2007, after an increase in 2006 that had interrupted years of progress in getting more kids covered.
    But seen over a longer period of time, the health insurance numbers are not reassuring. The number of uninsured — and the rate — are higher today than they were at the outset of the Bush administration in 2001. That year, 39.8 million people, or 14.1 percent, were uninsured.

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