Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 28, 2007: 1 in 10 youths in state lives in poverty

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About one in 10 youths in Washington lives in poverty, the fourth-lowest rate in the nation, according to 2006 figures released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

Washington ranked 21st the previous year in the rate of poverty among residents under 18.

Child poverty had risen earlier this decade because of falling employment rates and stagnant incomes, but “the trend reversed in 2005,” said Robert Plotnick of the West Coast Poverty Center at the University of Washington.

The better economic conditions for families continued last year, he said, resulting in a child poverty rate of 10.5 percent, or nearly 160,000 children in the equivalent of a family of four living on no more than $20,444 a year.

The percentage of Washington residents of all ages living in poverty last year was about 12 percent, essentially the same as the preceding two years, and ranking 20th-lowest in the U.S.

What varied during that period was the racial makeup of the poor, particularly among some groups. About one-quarter of African-Americans in Washington lived in poverty last year, up several percentage points from 2005. Asian-Americans stayed at about 10 percent, down from nearly 16 percent two years ago.

For all three years, Hispanics remained at about 24 percent and whites at 10 percent.

In King County, where the poverty rate has continued to be about 10 percent, the racial fluctuations were much greater. The rate of Hispanics in poverty last year was 14.5 percent, down 8 points. The rate for blacks increased to 29.1 percent, up nearly 6 points.

Plotnick cautioned against reading too much in the county numbers, saying the measurements in the American Community Survey — which looked at all areas in the U.S. with populations of 65,000 or more — were “pretty small” and the fluctuations might be simply “statistical noise.”

“I get nervous when (looking at percentages broken down) below the state level,” said Plotnick, a professor of public affairs.

Others saw some validity in the racial disparities.

“People of color are hugely overrepresented among the homeless,” said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle. Nearly 60 percent of the 129 residents are racial minorities at the institute’s Glen Hotel, Arion Court and Martin Court apartments, for instance.

Although the Central Area Motivation Program serves all races, African-Americans are the highest numbers, said Tony Orange, executive director of the poverty-fighting agency.

Obstacles to escaping poverty go beyond race to such factors as the availability of child care, Orange said.

The survey also indicated that the median household income in Washington last year was $52,583, up from $49,262 the preceding year, and 13th-highest among the states. The national average was $48,451.

Seattle’s median household income was $58,311, rising nearly $9,000 and ranking seventh-highest among large cities. In King County, the figure was $63,489, an increase of nearly $5,000.

The Census Bureau also said Tuesday that 746,000 Washington residents were without health coverage last year, 11.8 percent of the state population. Both figures were slightly lower than the average for the state from 2004 to 2006.

The national average last year was 15.8 percent.

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