The Census Bureau has just released its 2008 figures on poverty. By and large, they show little change from 2007, either for the nation as a whole or for the District of Columbia.
For the nation as a whole:
- The overall poverty rate increased to 13.2%–up by 0.2% from 2007.
- The percent of children in poverty increased to 18.2%–here too, up by 0.2%.
- The poverty rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites increased by 0.6% and 0.3% respectively, while the poverty rate for blacks declined by 0.6%.
- However, race/ethnicity gaps remain significant, with 12% more Hispanics and 14.8% more blacks than whites below the poverty threshold.
Poverty rates in the District were higher and one-year increases greater than for the nation as a whole.
- The poverty rate for all D.C. residents was 17.2%–up by 0.8% from 2007.
- The percent of children in poverty was 25.9%–up by 3.2%.
- As for the nation as a whole, Hispanics were the hardest hit by the onset of the recession. Their poverty rate increased by 6.5%.
- The poverty rate for blacks increased by 0.9%, while the rate from non-Hispanic whites dropped by 0.7%.
The new figures show that poverty in the District is still heavily concentrated among racial and ethnic minorities.
- The percent of non-Hispanic whites below the poverty threshold was 6.7%, with 4.3% of them in deep poverty, i.e., below 50% of the threshold.
- For blacks, the poverty rate was three-and-a-half times greater–23.6%. And the deep poverty rate was three times greater–13.5%.
- For Hispanics, the poverty rate was 17.6%–more than two-and-a-half times greater than the rate for non-Hispanic whites. Though the deep poverty rate was also higher, the gap was less dramatic–3.3% greater.
So what are we to make of all this? Obviously, the District still has what the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has called two economies, with large disparities between whites and racial and ethnic minorities.
As my partner Matt just wrote, these apparently are linked to levels of education. In 2008, 32.5% of D.C. residents below the poverty threshold had less than a high school diploma and an additional 20.1% no more than a diploma or GED, as compared to just 4.6% of those in poverty with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
But there could be other factors at work here as well. As a new report by the Center for American Progress shows, unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics have been persistently higher than the rate for whites, even when one controls for gender, age and education.
So we need to look at what CAP calls “labor market segmentation” and possible discrimination, as well as needs for more robust, inclusive training programs and significant improvements in education, from early childhood through high school and beyond.
Bottom line is that policymakers have to do more than promote economic recovery. Blacks and Hispanics will still be disproportionately at the bottom of the income scale unless policies and programs are tailored to address the disparities.
And even the best of these won’t work overnight, so there’s a need to mend our frayed safety nets too.