The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the poverty rate as the percentage of people who live in households with cash incomes below the "poverty line." This line is not a fixed dollar amount but varies by family size and type. For example, the poverty line for a single person in 2001 was $9,044 and $18,104 for a typical family of four.

The U.S. poverty rate fell between 1949 and 1969, from 39.7 percent to 14.4 percent. The official poverty rate reached a historic low in 1973, then stopped falling. Between that year and 2000, the poverty rate rose from 11.1 percent to 11.3 percent.

While the poverty rate failed to drop nationwide over the past three decades, it showed a distinctly different pattern in the RTW states. Starting with much higher poverty rates (averaging 18.3 percent in 1969), by 2000 RTW states had dropped sharply their average rate to 11.6 percent, placing the poverty rate only 0.3 percent higher than the U.S. poverty rate. All 21 RTW states' (including Louisiana and Idaho) poverty rates have declined over the past 30 years. Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' decennial survey from the past four decades, the poverty rate declined 6.7 and 2.0 percent for RTW and non-RTW states, respectively, from 1969 to 2000.  See Chart 12.  See Table VIII, Appendix I for actual poverty rates.

Michigan's poverty rate showed a disturbing 0.6 percent rise over this same period, ranking it 45th overall in poverty rate improvement. Michigan is one of seven states, all non-RTW, whose poverty rate actually increased over the past 30 years.