Poverty rate jumps for the first time since '04

Poverty in the West and the Midwest jumped in 2008, while levels in the South and Northeast held steady, Census report says. National rate rises to 13.2%.

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By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com staff reporter

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The poverty rate rose last year to 13.2%, the highest level since 1997, said a report released Thursday.

That marks the first statistically significant annual increase since 2004, according to the annual Census Bureau report "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008."

Last year, 39.8 million people lived below the poverty level, which is $22,025 for a family of four, according to the Office of Management and Budget. That's up 3.9% from 2007, when 37.3 million people lived in poverty.

Regional changes. The West had 9.6 million people living in poverty in 2008, which represents 13.5% of that region's population, up from a rate of 12% in 2007.

The Midwest had 8.1 million people living below the poverty line in 2008, which is a rate of 12.4%, up from 11.1% in 2007.

"Unfortunately, the regional numbers make perfect sense," said Heidi Shierholz, labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

"The West was very hard hit by the housing bubble, and the industrial Midwest states are suffering in the manufacturing sector."

The poverty rates for the Northeast (11.6%) and the South (14.3%) were both statistically unchanged from 2007.

State-by-state. New Mexico had the highest poverty rate of any state-- 19.3% -- followed by Louisiana (18.2%), Mississippi (18.1%), Arizona (18%) and Kentucky (17.1%).

At 7% New Hampshire had the nation's lowest poverty rate, followed by Utah (7.6%), Connecticut (8.1%), Alaska (8.2%) and Maryland (8.7%). To top of page

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