New Census Poverty Figures Show Little Change

September 29, 2009

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.


Who Will Share In DC’s Economic Recovery?

September 27, 2009

The greater Washington area seems to be on the road to economic recovery. The Brookings Institution reports that it’s one of three metro areas whose economic input returned to its pre-recession level in the second quarter of 2009. And the Washington Business Journal reports that IHS Global Insight–an economic forecasting firm–predicts that the area will get back to its pre-recession job level in 2011.

This is good news. But we must remember the area’s history of unevenly shared prosperity. We were recently reminded of this when the Washington Post reported that the District’s unemployment rate surged to 11.1% in August, while Virginia’s fell to 6.5% and Maryland’s stabilized at 7.2%.

The Post noted that “some employment experts attributed the disparity to the higher proportion in the District of undereducated employees.” We’ve got large disparities within the District–and for the same reason.

In 2007, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that the District’s decade-long economic boom had not been widely shared. This could be seen in the low employment levels among African-Americans and residents without postsecondary training and in dramatically growing disparities between high-wage and low-wage workers.

Recently-released census data show that these trends continue. As DCFPI reports, the overall median income for D.C. households rose in 2008, but households led by someone without a high school degree saw their incomes drop by nearly 20%. And while the inflation-adjusted median income for white households grew by 20% from 2000 to 2008, black households’ median income rose by just 2%.

Clearly, improving all levels of education and training must be a central element of efforts to bridge this economic divide. As a joint report by DCFPI and DC Appleseed says, D.C. has a “high-skill, knowledge-based economy,” with strong credentials required for even low-skill jobs.

Nobody would say that the Fenty administration isn’t trying to improve primary and secondary education. But adult education and training need attention too.

According to Census Bureau estimates, in 2007, approximately 51% of D.C. residents 25 years or older had attained less than an associate’s degree. And a 2007 Brookings report estimated that between 51,000 and 61,000 low-income working-age residents were in need of workforce development services to compete in the District’s high-skill labor market.

The Great Recession has almost certainly increased the need for such services. Of course, it’s also reduced tax revenues, thus hampering the District government’s ability to fund them.

But there’s some heartening news. The District has received $10.7 million in workforce development funds from the economic stimulus package. It plans to use the money to train residents for jobs in growth industries, i.e., emerging “green” industries, health care and hospitality. In fact, many who receive “green” training may get work immediately on the $8.1 million weatherization initiative that ARRA has funded.

And despite budget challenges, D.C. policymakers have thus far kept $4.6 million of locally-funded adult job training in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

If you believe that adult job training should be a top priority, you have a chance to weigh in by testifying at the public oversight roundtable that the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development will hold on Thursday, October 1.

The roundtable will start at 11:00 a.m. in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW). You can also submit testimony for the record. For either option, you’ll need to contact Drew Hubbard at 202-727-8230 or

This recession has taught us that we’re all affected by one another’s economic fortunes. Let’s each do our part to ensure that we learn from past mistakes and climb out of this economic morass together.

UPDATE:  The Committee on Housing and Workforce Development roundtable has been postponed. No new date has as yet been announced.