Alaska's poverty rates increase 15 percent higher in decade's time

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Nearly 15 percent more Alaskans were living in poverty in the late 1990s than in the previous decade, according to Census Bureau estimates released this week.

The rates, however, fluctuated throughout the '90s, the figures show.

The Associated Press looked at the poverty rates from 1989 to 1998, the most recent numbers available.

The AP's analysis focused solely upon middle estimates of poverty and income provided by the Census Bureau. Because those estimates are built from survey data and statistical models, large margins of error may affect comparisons between different areas or comparisons of a single area's numbers over time.

The federal poverty level in 1998 was $16,450 for a family of four. Now it's $17,650.

In 1989, there were 57,539 Alaskans -- or 10.6 percent of the population -- living in poverty. In 1998, there were 65,970 people living in poverty in the state, or 10.8 percent of the population.

Neal Fried, a state labor economist, said the estimates are difficult to gauge because of their vague margins of error. He did note, however, that the increase of poor Alaskans could simply reflect the population growth during that decade.

''The population grew about the same as the poverty rates,'' Fried said.

The lower poverty numbers in 1989 also could reflect the boost that same year from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the aftermath, including the massive cleanup. ''Just a ton of money was dumped into Alaska's economy,'' Fried said.

According to the census poverty estimates, all but four of the 28 survey areas saw increased poverty rates. Bethel and Nome, as well as Wade Hampton area in western Alaska and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census area, had declines during that time.

Alaska's child poverty rates increased 5.4 percent in that decade. Statewide in 1998, there were 28,014 children living in poverty, 14.6 percent of the population under 18.

Total poverty numbers fluctuated widely in 1993, 1995 and 1997, the only other years included in the census estimates. The disparity might be due more to statistical inaccuracies than any actual changes, Fried said.

He expects a more apparent portrait of the state's poor to emerge when the Census Bureau releases more current data next summer with numbers from the 2000 Census.

''Those will be the defining numbers,'' he said.


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