Poverty rates higher for blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians

February 20, 2013

Blacks and Hispanics in Maryland and Virginia are much more likely to be poor than whites or Asians there, but their poverty rates are still lower than the national average, the Census Bureau said Wednesday.

A census report on poverty rates for various racial and ethnic groups found poverty widespread among American Indians, blacks and Hispanics.

Nationwide, during 2007 and 2011, which encompasses the recession and the immediate aftermath, 43 million Americans — or slightly more than 14 percent — lived in poverty. But not every group was impacted equally. The poverty rate was 27 percent for American Indians, 26 percent for African Americans and 23 percent for Hispanics. Among whites and Asians, less than 12 percent were poor. The federal threshold for poverty is about $11,500 in annual income for an individual and about $23,000 for a family of four.

The Washington area has some of the most affluent counties in the country. The recession had less of an impact here than in most places in the nation, largely because of the prevalence of college-educated, two-income households and the stability created by federal jobs and contracting. But even in Washington, the recession bred an unusual degree of unemployment, job loss and poverty.

According to the census figures, the most pervasive poverty in the Washington region was experienced among blacks living in the District. In the city as a whole, 26 percent of American Americans were poor, roughly the same as the national average. But even that grim statistic understates the poverty in some corners of the city. In Ward 8, for example, 38 percent of the residents are poor, according to census statistics.

“During the recession, we saw a number of families who had been doing well pushed back below the poverty level,” said Joe Weeden, director of Defeat Poverty DC, a coalition of groups working to halve the city’s poverty level over the decade.

Census statistics released in December showed overall poverty in the District at a 30-year high, with one in five residents — including one in three children — officially classified as poor. But Weeden said there are signs the picture is improving.

“Over the last year, as employment has ticked up, we’re seeing some rebound,” he said.

The census report said Maryland and Virginia were among only six states with poverty rates under 20 percent for blacks. In Maryland, less than 14 percent of blacks lived in poverty, compared with 19 percent of blacks in Virginia. Maryland, Hawaii and Alaska were the only states where a smaller proportion of African Americans lived below the poverty level than the national average.

By contrast, the region also experienced some of the country’s lowest poverty rates for whites — 6 percent in Maryland, and a little more than 8 percent in Virginia and the District.

Locally, all three jurisdictions showed a smaller share of Hispanics who are poor than the national average — 13 percent in Maryland, 14 percent in the District and 15 percent in Virginia.

The picture was more mixed for Asians. Poverty affected 7 percent of Asians in Maryland and 8 percent in Virginia, among the lowest rates in the country. In the District, however, 13 percent of Asians were poor, above the national average.

Carol Morello is the diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, covering the State Department.
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