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City Poverty Rate Rises As National Rate Falls

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Results released Tuesday from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey show the nation's poverty rate took a dip in 2006 — yet the city’s rate actually increased.

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger says in 2006, almost 1,550,000 people were living in poverty — about 30,000 more than there were in 2005. That means one in five city residents live below the federal poverty line.

But nationwide, the poverty rate is actually decreasing. The survey found 36.5 million Americans lived in poverty last year. That comes out to 12.3 percent, which is point-three less than what the poverty rate was in 2005.

The Bloomberg administration says by its calculation there really was not a change in New York’s poverty rates, but that in itself is a sign more needs to be done. So Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he is stepping up his efforts to cut those numbers.

“There is no single answer, no magic bullet,” said the mayor.

However, the mayor does have one proposal he believes could work. He's proposing big changes to the federal government's earned income tax credit.

Bloomberg wants to increase benefits given to single adults by raising the maximum yearly income to qualify for the credit from 12,000 to 18,000 dollars a year. The mayor is also calling for the elimination of the so-called marriage penalty, which currently limits how much married couples can receive.

By allowing each spouse to file individually, the mayor says a married couple without children earning $22,000 would be eligible for a $2,000 credit, compared with zero under the current law.

“Marriage increases a family's chances of rising out of poverty,” said Bloomberg. “Why would government discourage it?”

But Bloomberg is trying to discourage people from not working, by tying work requirements to the benefit. He also wants to prevent credits from going to dead-beat dads.

“If you owe child support and you're not current on your payments, no check from the IRS. Period,” said the mayor.

The price tag for the program is high, at roughly $8.5 billion a year. It would cover about a half million city residents and nearly 20 million people nationwide.

This is Bloomberg's latest effort to cut poverty. His administration is about to start a test program that will pay eligible New Yorkers for meeting certain goals. Critics say the mayor needs to do much more.

“They are all wonderful proposals, but we need to dramatically expand what we’re doing,” said Joel Berg, the executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger.

And, of course, throughout the trip, the mayor was met with speculation about a possible run for president. This time the Mayor joked about it in a different way.

“He has impressed people so much that people want him to run as an independant candidate for the chief executive of our country,” said Strobe Talbott of the Brookings Institute.

“I'm not here on a stealth campaign to become the next attorney general,” countered Bloomberg.

But the Bloomberg was in Washington to start lobbying federal lawmakers. His proposals will not go anywhere unless he wins Washington's support.

- Michael Scotto
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