I was all set to write that the poverty rate for the District of Columbia dipped down last year, just as the official national rate had. But no, according to the just-released results of the American Community Survey.
The District’s poverty rate increased from 18.2% in 2012 to 18.9% in 2013, Or so it seems. The increase is small enough increase to fall within the margin of error.*
Here’s more of what we’ve got, plus a few remarks here and there.
The Big Picture
The new poverty rate means that approximately 115,630 District residents lived on less than the very low applicable poverty threshold — just $23,624 for a two-parent, two-child family or about 26% of the family’s basic living costs in the D.C. area.
The rate is 2.5% higher than in 2007, just before the recession set in. It is also 3.1% higher than the 2013 national rate.
The deep poverty rate, i.e., the percent of residents living below half the applicable income threshold, was 10.3%. In other words, somewhat over 63,000 residents were devastatingly poor, especially when we consider the high costs of living in the District.
Young and Old
As in the past, the child poverty rate was much higher than the overall rate — 27.2%. This means that about 29,740 D.C. children were officially poor — well over half of them (16.2%) deeply so.
Both the total and the deep poverty rates for children were slightly higher than in 2012 — in both cases, by less than 1%. But they were considerably higher than in 2007, when the child poverty rate was 22.7% and the deep poverty rate for children 12%.
They were also both higher than the national rates. These, according to the ACS, were 22.2% and 9.9%.
Seniors had lower poverty and deep poverty rates — 17.5% and 4.5% respectively. These too, however, were higher than the nationwide rates. And a better poverty measure than the clunker the ACS uses would probably yield higher rates for seniors here in the District.
Non-Hispanic Whites v. Everybody Else
Race/ethnicity gaps in the District remain very wide. For example:
- The black poverty rate was more than three and a half times greater than the rate for non-Hispanic whites — 28.7%, as compared to 7.7%.
- For blacks, the deep poverty rate was 15.2%, while for non-Hispanic whites only 5.1%.
- For Hispanics, the poverty rate was 12.6% and the deep poverty rate 5.6%. These are markedly lower than the 2012 rates, unlike the others here.
- Rates for Asians were 18.7% and 13.2% respectively.
We see similar disparities in median household income, i.e., the midpoint between the highest and the lowest.
- The median income for non-Hispanic white households was a very comfortable $118,402.
- For black households, the median income was less than a third of that — $38,124.
- Hispanic and Asian households fell in between, with a median incomes of $50,861 and $63,281 respectively.
The non-Hispanic white household median was a whole lot higher here than nationwide, by nearly $60,720. The medians for black and Hispanic households were higher too, but the dollar differences were much smaller, especially the former. The median for Asian households was lower — a surprise, since it was considerably higher in 2012.
Work and Education
We’re told that work is the solution to poverty. The ACS figures support this, but only up to a point.
In 2013, 46.5% of poor residents between the ages of 16 and 64 didn’t work at all. An additional 25.7% worked less than full time or intermittently.
But that still leaves nearly 8,380 working-age residents who were employed full-time, year round and still not earning enough to lift themselves out of poverty — or at least, not them and dependent family members.
It’s a fair guess that these are mostly residents who don’t have the formal education credentials that living-wage jobs here, as elsewhere, increasingly demand. This is probably also the case for many of the part-time and some-time employed.
What we do know is that roughly 44.5% of residents 25-64 years old who had less than a high school education were employed during 2013 — and only 54.2% with no more than that.
Not surprisingly then, the poverty rate for those 25 years and older who had just a high school diploma or the equivalent was 27% last year — and for those with less, 39.3%. By contrast, the poverty rate for those with at least a four-year college degree was just 5.4%.
(Yes, I know these shifting age brackets are frustrating.)
There’s obviously a lot of wealth in the District — and a lot of poverty. We see this in the figures I’ve cited, but also in the fact that the average household income — $102,822 — is so much greater than the median.
While 15.3% of households had incomes under $15,000, 12% had incomes of at least $200,000 — the highest bracket the Census Bureau reports.
There’s nothing new about this divide, except for the specific numbers. Nor is it unique to the District, though the disparity here seems unusually high. Nothing new about that either.
Most experts — and advocates as well — view the growing income inequality in this country as a bad thing in and of itself. They also see negatives specifically for people at the low end of the income scale. Many of the same arguments would apply to the District.
Nearly 10,860 families in the District had annual incomes, including cash benefits of less than $10,000 last year. Surely we can do better, though doing it won’t be simple.
* All the ACS tables include the margins of error, i.e., how much the raw numbers and percents could be too high or too low. In the interests of simplicity, I’m reporting both as given.
NOTE: I’ve revised several figures in this post because I’ve learned that I should use the ACS national figures for comparisons. I had originally used the Current Population Survey for these because that’s how I understood the Census Bureau advice.