As you may have read, the figures the Census Bureau released two weeks ago showed that the poverty rate in the District had gone down — from 18% in 2008 to 17% in 2009.
Jenny Reed at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute cautioned us that the new figure was actually a two-year average that might mask the impacts of the recession. We should wait, she said, for the single-year 2009 results of the American Community Survey.
Now we have them. And indeed, they show the poverty rate increased last year — up by 1.2% from 2008. The 2009 poverty rate in the District was 18.4% — 4.1% higher than for the nation as a whole.
Here are some other things we learn:
- The child poverty rate rose again. In 2009, a shocking 29.4% of all D.C. children lived below the poverty level — up by 4% from 2008. This is 6.7% more poor children since 2007 and 9.4% more than for the nation as a whole.
- The percent of blacks living below the poverty level was more than three and a half times higher than the percent for non-Hispanic whites — 26.8%, as compared to 7%. The gap here is 2.8% greater than in 2008 and 4.4% greater than in 2007.
- We see a similar, though much smaller gap between the poverty rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites — a 3.7% difference. It was considerable greater last year — 10.9%.
- The percent of individuals living in deep poverty, i.e., below 50% of the poverty level, rose again — from 9.8% in 2008 to 10.7% in 2009.
- A large gap here too, but only for blacks versus non-Hispanic whites. The percent of blacks in deep poverty was 16%, as compared to only 4.3% for non-Hispanic whites. The percent of Hispanics in deep poverty was smaller than either — 3.1%.
- There are still huge race/ethnicity income gaps. The 2009 median income for non-Hispanic white households was $104,201 — $67,253 more than for black households and $47,380 more than for Hispanic households.
There are probably many reasons for the District’s persistent high poverty rate and the yawning race-linked gap between the haves and the have-nots.
One jumps out from the new ACS figures — the mismatch between the demands of the local labor market and the formal education credentials of many of our fellow residents.
For individuals with only a high school diploma or a GED, the poverty rate was 25.5%. For those with less, it was 28.3%. The latter is six times greater than the percent for individuals with a bachelors degree or higher.
These figures should be a call to action, were any needed, for reforms in the public education system that don’t emphasize high test scores at the expense of struggling learners. Do any of our educators hold the exit door open when low-scorers want to give up? Will they when the pressure to produce year-over-year improvements increases?
They’re also a powerful argument for job training programs that encourage drop-outs to work for their GED and high school graduates to get some further education under their belts. These programs are not where the District should be looking as it seeks to rebalance its budget.
UPDATE: The poverty figures I used come from the annual tables entitled Selected Characteristics of People at Specified Levels of Poverty in the Past 12 Months. After posting this, I found that the Census Bureau also released a brief comparing 2008 and 2009 poverty rates. The 2008 rate for the District is different from the one in the detailed table. According to the brief, the poverty rate in the District increased by 0.8% and the poverty rate for children by 2.7%. I’ll leave it to the experts to explain the discrepancy.