The poverty rate was 12.1 percent last year, up from 11.7 percent in 2001. Nearly 34.6 million people lived in poverty, about 1.7 million more than the previous year.
Even before the data was made public, House Democrats charged the Bush administration was trying to hide bad economic news by releasing the numbers on a Friday when people are paying more attention to the upcoming weekend. In previous years, the estimates were released either on a Tuesday or Thursday.
"Sounds like they're trying to bury the numbers where people won't find them," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "This is another clear example of political manipulation of data by the Bush administration to avoid the glare of public scrutiny about the country's worsening economy."
Bureau spokesman Larry Neal said the time change wasn't politically motivated. It was originally scheduled to be released this past Tuesday, he said, but was moved to Friday because statisticians asked for more time to process the numbers.
"These are the official estimates of income and poverty in America and every debate on income and poverty for the next year will rehash them," Neal said. "The notion that we should, could or would suppress these numbers doesn't pass the laugh test."
Median household income declined 1.1 percent between 2001 and 2002 to $42,409, after accounting for inflation. That means half of all households earned more than that amount, and half earned less.
The poverty rate rose again after having fallen for nearly a decade to 11.3 percent in 2000, its lowest level in more than 25 years. Income levels increased through most of the 1990s, then were flat in 2000 and fell the last two years.
Experts had predicted rising unemployment last year and the still shaky economy would increase poverty and lower income for most people, even though the recession officially ended in November 2001.
In 2002, 12.1 million children were in poverty, or 16.7 percent of all kids, up from 11.7 million, or 16.3 percent, the previous year. The Census Bureau said the increase was not statistically significant.
The estimates, calculated annually by the Census Bureau, came from a survey of 78,000 households taken in March. They are the government's official measure of income and poverty.
Comparing poverty rates and income for racial and ethnic groups was more difficult in 2002 because the Census Bureau for the first time allowed survey respondents to report if they were of more than one race.
However, the bureau reported the poverty rate increased for blacks and was relatively unchanged for whites, Asians and Hispanics. Median income was highest among non-Hispanic whites and Asians.
Another key measure — the number living in or near poverty — also increased. The number of families with incomes under 125 percent of the poverty rate rose from 45.3 million to 47 million, or from 16.1 to 16.5 percent.
The poverty threshold differs by the size and makeup of a household. For instance, a person under 65 living alone in 2002 was considered in poverty if income was $9,359 or less; for a household of three including one child, it was $14,480.
There was good economic news in another report out Friday.
The Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at a better-than-expected 3.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the government reported Friday, raising hopes the country is finally on the verge of mounting a sustained rebound from the 2001 recession.
The increase in the gross domestic product — the country's total output of goods and services — for the April-June period was revised upward from a 3.1 percent estimate made a month ago, reflecting newfound strength in such areas as housing construction, which has been booming this year.
In a sign of the lingering effects of the country's hard times, the government also reported Friday that after-tax corporate profits dropped by 5 percent in the second quarter, the worst quarterly showing since a 6.5 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2001.