DC Poverty Rate Hits 19.2 Percent

September 22, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, the Census Bureau released the results of its 2010 Current Population Survey.

Much attention here in the District of Columbia to the increase in our local poverty rate. Up to 19.9%, we were told. Trailing only Mississippi and Louisiana.

That poverty rate was based on a small sample, which means it could be off by quite a bit. The two-year average Census recommends yields a rate of 18.9%. The even more reliable three-year average is 18.1%.

But these rates, of course, don’t tell us whether poverty has been trending up or down. Nor anything about specific impacts.

So I waited for the results of the American Community Survey — partly because its one-year figures are reasonably reliable, but also because there are lots more state-level figures.

Now we’ve got them. Here’s some of what we learn, combined with my analyses based on figures from prior years.

Poverty Rate

In 2010, the District’s poverty rate did indeed go up, though not by quite as much as the one-year CPS figure indicates.

According to the ACS, the rate was 19.2% — 0.8% higher than in 2009 and 3.9% higher than for the nation as a whole.

The new rate means that about 109,620 District residents lived below the Census Bureau’s very low poverty thresholds. These vary by household size and composition. But, to give you a sense of how low they are, the average threshold of a family of four was $22,314.

Child Poverty Rate*

The already very high child poverty rate increased to 30.4%. This is 8.8% higher than the national rate and 7.7% higher than in 2007, just before the recession set in.

Translated into more human terms, the new rate means that about 30,500 D.C. children lived in poverty last year.

One tiny bright spot. The percent of children in deep poverty, i.e., in households with incomes below 50% of the poverty threshold, dropped by 2.6%.

It is still, however, a very high 16.2% — 6.6% higher than the national rate.

Race/Ethnicity Gaps

We see once again that poverty is not an equal opportunity condition here in the District or in the nation as a whole.

In 2010, 8.5% of non-Hispanic white District residents lived in poverty. The poverty rate for black residents was more than three times greater — 27.1%. The rate for Hispanic residents was nearly double the non-white Hispanic rate — 14.7%.

Deep poverty rates also varied — from 5.9% for non-Hispanic whites to 14% for blacks, with Hispanics in the middle at 8%. All three of these rates are greater than the 2009 rates. The increase for Hispanics — 4% — was markedly greater than for the other two groups.

Not surprisingly, we see similar gaps in median average household income. For non-Hispanic white households, the median was $99,220 — an eye-popping $45,052 more than the national median for these households.

The District’s black household median income was more than two and a half times lower than the median for all District households — $37,430, as compared to $60,903.

Hispanic households fared better, though not nearly so well as non-Hispanic white households. Their 2010 median income was $60,798.

In short, these are mostly grim figures — and a far cry from the “one city” Mayor Gray envisions.

To my mind, the child poverty rate rings the loudest alarm bells because we’ve got volumes of research showing that children who live in poverty have much higher risks of poor health, developmental delays, academic difficulties and other problems;

These, the research shows, pave the way for lifelong poverty — and thus another generation of children who are born with two strikes against them.

* All the child poverty figures are for individuals up to the age of 18.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, the Coalition on Human Needs published a state-by-state list of poverty rates reflecting the new ACS report and its reports for the four years preceding.

According to the list, the District’s 2010 poverty rate is higher than any state’s. Alabama and Kentucky tie for second place, with rates of 19% all but two states’, Mississippi’s and New Mexico’s.

A separate CHN list provides state-by-state child poverty rates. The District’s rate is the second highest, topped by Mississippi’s 32.5%.


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