The Washington Postreports today that the US poverty rate rose for the fourth consecutive year last year, to 12.7 percent.  That is, one out of eight Americans now lives in poverty. 

At the same time, median incomes stagnated in 2004, and the number of people nationwide who have no health insurance grew by 800,000.

Without any apparent irony, the Post reports that…

[t]he increase in poverty came despite strong economic growth

So what, exactly, does "strong economic growth" mean if poverty increases, middle-income folks see their incomes stagnate, and more people end the year uninsured.  Yes, I do know the answer to this—GDP grew, the economy added jobs, and so forth.  But if the Census data are any indication, these trends did little or nothing for those at the bottom half of the economic ladder—those who were most in need of economic boost.  It seems like these trends—poverty, median incomes, and the like—are far more important to people’s lives than accounting conventions like GDP. 

Just by way of comparison, the poverty rate in Washington and Oregon has averaged 11.7 percent over the past 3 years; in Idaho it’s been 10.5 percent; in Montana, 14.3 percent; and California, 13.2 percent.  We’ll be looking more closely at Northwest trendlines as soon as updated data becomes available on the Census website.

Update: Some similar thoughts on the subject from The Washington Monthly weblog.