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Study: About 27% of working families fall below poverty line

WASHINGTON -- More than a quarter of all working families in the United States, including 20 million children, are considered low-income or poor, an independent report said yesterday.

The nonpartisan report was timed to coincide with the last weeks of the presidential campaign, and to add to the debate over problems for America's working families, according to Brandon Roberts, one of the authors.

''We worked very hard to make this a nonpartisan report . . . . The data that we have really present solid evidence that the problem is much larger than we ever imagined before," Roberts said.

There are gaps in federal and state efforts to help low-wage workers in such areas as scholarships, adult education, and subsidized medical care, and there is wide variation in programs from state to state, the report found.

Citing 2002 Census data, the report found 9.2 million families with at least one working adult and one child under 18 -- or 27.4 percent of such families -- fall into the government's measure of low income. This means they earn less than the federal poverty threshhold, or less than $36,784 in 2002.

Of those 9.2 million families, 2.5 million are officially living in poverty, earning less than $18,392 for a family of four. The median US income was $62,732 in 2002.

Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry has emphasized the economic problems facing working families and stressed this theme yesterday.

''The cost of healthcare is up 64 percent. College tuition is up more than 35 percent. And the typical family is making $1,500 less each year -- while the cost of nearly everything continues to rise," the Massachusetts senator said in Santa Fe.

President Bush, campaigning in Hobbs, N.M., said he planned to change the government's support systems for working people.

''The world in which we live and work is changing," Bush said. ''Yet many of the most fundamental systems of our government -- the tax code, the healthcare, pension plans and worker training -- were created for a world of yesterday, not tomorrow."

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