CORRECTION: The overall poverty rate change for DC falls within the margin of error. A preview table I saw indicated it didn’t. But I should have verified.
The Census Bureau has taken to blasting out all its major poverty reports in rapid-fire succession. So we now have the results of the American Community Survey — not a report in the usual sense, but a huge number of online tables.
They cover a wide range of topics. And the ACS sample is much larger than what the Bureau uses for its two other annual reports. So we can get reasonably reliable figures for states and smaller jurisdictions.
I’ve again dug into a few tables for the District of Columbia — mainly those most directly related to poverty. We could, I suppose, take heart from another year of progress. But it’s modest and mixed. Both the extent of poverty in the city — and related inequalities — remind us how much remains to be done.
Poverty and Deep Poverty Rates for DC Residents Still High
About 110,380 District residents — 17.3% — lived in poverty last year. The new rate is just 0.4%* lower than the rate reported for 2014. It’s 2.6% higher than the new ACS national rate — and rates for all but eight states.
It’s also nearly 1% higher than the local rate for 2007, just before the recession set in. The population has grown since then. So the seemingly small rate difference means that the District is now home to about 18,600 more poor people. And they’re very poor indeed, for reasons I’ll touch on below.
Roughly 58,700 District residents — 9.2% of the total — lived in deep poverty, i.e., had incomes less than half the maximum set by the poverty threshold the Census Bureau uses for a household like theirs.
The new rate is perhaps 0.1% lower than the rate for 2014 — in other words, basically the same. It too is higher than the rate for the nation as a whole.
Child Poverty Rate Still Far Higher Than Overall Rate
The child poverty rate has consistently exceeded the rate for the population as a whole, both in the District and nationwide. The local rate last year was 25.6%. Like the overall rate, it’s 0.4% lower than the 2014 rate.
But it still represents about 29,710 children — about 300 more than in 2014 because, again, the rate reflects a somewhat larger population. It too is higher than the disproportionately high national rate.
More than half the District’s poor children — 15,088 — were deeply poor. The new rate is higher than the 2014 rate — 13%, as compared to 12.4%.
Race/Ethnicity Gaps Still Large
Poverty is not an equal opportunity condition here in the District or anywhere else. As in the past, we see this writ in black and white in the ACS figures. Brown and tan also, though to a lesser extent.
Last year 26.6% of black District residents were officially poor, as compared to 6.9% of non-Hispanic whites. The deep poverty rate for the former was 13.3%, while only 4.5% for the latter.
Both rates for blacks were higher than in 2014. The plain vanilla rate for non-Hispanic whites was the same then, but their deep poverty rate somewhat higher.
For Hispanics, the poverty rate was 11.6% and the deep poverty rate 5.5%. The rates for Asians were 12.3% and 9.4%.
We see the same large disparities in the ACS figures for household incomes — a related, but broader indicator than the poverty rates.
The median household income for non-Hispanic whites was nearly three times the median for black households — $120,400, as compared to $41,520. Median incomes for Hispanic and Asian households fell in between.
The median for non-Hispanic white households was an eye-popping $63,400 more than the national median — an even larger difference than reported for 2014.
More Residents Suffering Hardships Than Poverty Rates Show
I always remark, at least in passing on the fact that the poverty thresholds the Census Bureau uses for analyses like these are very low.
They’re almost surely too low to accurately reflect the number of households without enough money for basic needs in communities nationwide. But they’re egregiously too low in high-cost communities like the District.
Consider, for example, a single mother with two children. They’re officially not poor if her income, before taxes was roughly $19,100 last year.
An affordable apartment for them would have had to cost no more than about $477.50 a month. But a modest two bedroom apartment, plus basic utilities cost roughly $980 more. It would have left the mom with about $1,580 for all her family’s other basic needs over the course of the year.
Even with SNAP (food stamp) benefits, she’d have been hard pressed to put enough food on the table in part because groceries here cost far more than the nationwide average, according to a cost-of-living database.
And the benefits assume she’ll spend 30% of her own adjusted income. So there goes a quite a bit of the money she’d have left after paying the rent. Probably more than her expected share, in fact. If not, then some hungry days for her.
She’d still have to pay for a host of other things, of course, e.g., clothes, soap, toothpaste and cleaning supplies, transportation. These aren’t necessarily costlier in the District than elsewhere. But we know daycare is.
She’d have to pay some part, even with a subsidy. The subsidy’s not a sure thing for a working woman like her, however. Without it, the average of cost even just after-school care for her kids would exceed her total income.
I don’t think I need to flog this point further. But we do need to put the new District poverty figures in perspective. [Your policy message here.]
* All the ACS tables include margins of error, i.e., how much the raw numbers and percents could be too high or too low. For readability, I’m reporting both as given.
The overall poverty rate beats the statistical text, but others Small year-over-year changes may mean no real differences.