Poverty rate hike high­est in Austin


Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - A Con­tact Juan Castillo at 445-3635.

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.

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