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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 730,000 Washingtonians lived in poverty in 2008. In total, 11.3 percent of the state’s population had incomes at or below the federal poverty line last year. The overall poverty rate in 2008 remained statistically unchanged from the previous year, signaling that the data does not capture the full impact of the recession. Data for 2009, when the economic crisis worsened dramatically, is likely to show a disturbing increase in the number of Washingtonians living in poverty.

Poverty among Minority Communities in Washington

Poverty rates varied significantly across communities in Washington, with certain minority groups and counties experiencing higher rates compared to the general population. For example, last year members of Native American, African American, and Hispanic households were more than twice as likely to be impoverished compared to the population as a whole. The graph below shows that the poverty rate among Native American households stood at 26.1 percent. Similarly, African American and Hispanic communities experienced poverty rates of 22.9 and 23.5 percent, respectively. At the same time, Asian (9.2 percent) and White (9.9 percent) households were significantly less likely to be in poverty compared with the general population.

Poverty by County

Poverty rates in 2008 also varied significantly among Washington’s 19 largest counties – those with populations above 65,000. Compared to the statewide average, sparsely-populated counties tended to see higher poverty rates. The graph below shows that the poverty rate was highest in Franklin County (20.5 percent), followed by the counties of Yakima (18.3 percent), Grant (15.7 percent), Whatcom (14.7 percent), and Spokane (13.7 percent).

Conversely, residents in the counties of Snohomish (7.9 percent), Island (8.0 percent), King (9.1 percent), and Clark (9.6 percent) were significantly less likely to live in poverty compared with the statewide general population.

The poverty rate was not significantly different from the state average in Benton, Chelan, Clallam, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Kitsap, Lewis, Pierce, Skagit, and Thurston counties.

2009 Data Likely to Be Much Worse

Today’s 2008 data does not capture the full impact of the current recession. While the unemployment rate in Washington averaged 5.3 percent in 2008, that number jumped to 9.2 percent by August 2009. Overall, 66,000 jobs have been lost in Washington since the start of 2009. Nationwide, the recession has taken a greater toll on communities of color. In the U.S., the unemployment rate among white workers was 8.9 percent in August; but among African American and Hispanic workers, the rates was 15.1 and 13.0 percent, respectively.

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