Where the roaring '90s have not reached

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Not everyone is enjoying the fruits of today's luscious economy. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans lives in a household that has trouble meeting basic needs - everything from paying the utility bills to buying dinner.

Moreover, it's not just the poor who are having trouble.

A smaller but substantial number of middle-class Americans reported they struggled to meet at least one basic need in 1995 (the latest data available), according to a new report from the United States Census Bureau.

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"It's a little surprising," says Kurt Bauman, the Census Bureau demographer who wrote the report, released last week. But "these are the kind of things that can happen to anybody."

A new child or a divorce can put middle- or even high-income people in a temporary financial bind, he adds. "It shows that even when things are as good as they seem, not everyone has every last detail of their life all sewed up."

Still, the bulk of the problem rests with the poor, especially children of the poor.

More than one-quarter of America's children lived in households that had trouble meeting basic needs. By contrast, less than 10 percent of Americans who are 70 years or older reported a similar problem.

A smaller proportion of households (just under 1 in 20) had members who sometimes didn't get enough to eat.

And for some, it's a fairly frequent occurrence. For example, households that reported they'd had such a problem in the last 30 days also said that, on average, they'd spent a week short of food.

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