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Record US poverty persists in '11: Census Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The ranks of America's poor remain stuck at a record 15 percent, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

Roughly 46.2 million people remained below the poverty line in 2011, unchanged from 2010. The figure is the highest in more than half a century.

And while joblessness is persistently high, the gap between rich and poor increased in the last year. The top 1 percent of wage earners had a 6-percent increase in income, while income at the bottom 40 percent of earners was basically unchanged, said David Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau's household economics division.

“A lot of the increase is driven by changes at the very top of the distribution,” Johnson said.

The report comes less than two months before the November presidential election, where the still-weak U.S. economy is the top issue for voters deciding between the leading candidates, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Experts had predicted a fourth straight annual rise in the poverty rate, but dwindling unemployment benefits and modest job gains helped to keep that from happening.

“This is good news and a surprise,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan economist who closely tracks poverty. He pointed to a continuing boost from new unemployment benefits passed in 2009 that gave workers up to 99 weeks of payments after layoffs and didn't run out for many people until late 2011. Also, job gains in the private sector helped offset cuts in state and local government workers.

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This July 16 photo shows Claudia Pedroza, 39, and her 8-year-old daughter Karla at the Jefferson Action Center in Lakewood, Colorado. Pedroza moved to the Denver suburbs five years ago with her husband and four children in hopes of a more comfortable suburban life. (AP)

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