Poverty rate hike highest in Austin
into other basic needs,” said Cathy McHorse, president of the Junior League of Austin, which organizes the giveaway along with community partners.
Despite job growth, spikes in construction work and other signs that the Austin economy is turning the corner, poverty rates remain stubbornly high. New census poverty data released last week demonstrate the effects since 2007, when the recession began.
The poverty rate for school-age children — ages 5 to 17 — living in families rose from 2007 to 2011 in more than a dozen Austinarea school districts, according to an American-Statesman analysis. No school district had a higher increase than Austin, with a surge of 10 percentage points.
Though the school-age poverty rate in Austin was unchanged from 2010 to 2011 at 28 percent, it topped national and Texas averages, according to the data.
Among 15 Austin-area school districts, only Del Valle, with 31 percent, had a higher poverty rate than Austin for school-age children in families, according to the Statesman analysis.
School-age child poverty rates also were higher than the national average in Travis County (23 percent) and Caldwell County (25 percent) in 2011, though they remained virtually unchanged from 2010. The child poverty rate in 2011 was 21 percent in Bastrop County, 16 percent in Hays County and 10 percent in Williamson County.
Slightly more than 1 in 5 U.S. schoolchildren — 21 percent — lived in poverty last year, an increase of 1 percentage point from the year before. However, the child poverty rate was considerably higher in Texas at 25 percent, or an estimated 1.2 million children. Among states, only California had more children in poverty, with an estimated 1.4 million.
The child poverty rate rose every year between 2007 and 2011 in the United States and has risen every year since 2008 in Texas.
The 28 percent poverty rate for school-age children in the Austin district in 2011 stopped four consecutive years of increases.
The federal poverty threshold for a family of four in 2011 was $23,021.
The poverty numbers underscore the gap in Austin between rich and poor. While significant portions of the community struggle to make ends meet, more than 1 in 4 households in the AustinRound Rock-San Marcos metro area have incomes of $100,000 or more, according to a separate, recent census report.
The latest findings are gleaned from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, which are released annually and cover every county and school district in the nation. Data for school districts are estimates for all children residing in a school district but not necessarily enrolled in that district, a census spokeswoman said.
About 1 in 4 counties in the United States has had significant child poverty rate increases since 2007, the Census Bureau said. Only 10 of about 3,140 counties nationwide saw significant decreases during the period.
The census estimates are among the criteria used to funnel federal money to local education agencies, acting Census Bureau Director Thomas Mesenbourg said in a statement. State and local programs also use the estimates for distributing funds and managing school programs, Mesenbourg said.
In recent years, Austinarea nonprofits and social service safety net providers have reported having to adjust to increasing needs for food and basic services, particularly among children, families and parents working more than one job.
McHorse, the Junior League president, said that organization also made adjustments, beginning about six years ago when it noticed that needs were spreading into suburban areas. It started distributing coats in Del Valle after realizing that families weren’t able to travel to Austin on distribution day.
More recently, it incorporated a community resource fair as part of the Coats for Kids giveaway, putting families in touch with more than a dozen nonprofits and social service agencies. And it began providing backpacks filled with food for children at two Del Valle elementary schools, addressing a gap for kids in the national free and reduced-price lunch program who don’t have access to nutritious foods on weekends, McHorse said.